Warm breakfast an integral part of Attendance Matters program

Warm breakfast an integral part of Attendance Matters program

Forsyth Elementary’s enrolment has rapidly expanded in three years when principal had 315 children under her care. Now she has 440, many of them newcomers to Canada.

The possible loss of its breakfast program is not something Kam Grewal, principal of Forsyth Elementary in North Surrey, wants to consider.

“If it wasn’t available? I don’t think these children would be eating,” she said. “So many of our children have said so.

“It would be a huge loss.”

The school on 139th Street near 108th Avenue serves breakfast to approximately 100 children each morning. Most come in hungry.

The warm breakfast they receive — this day it is a cheese omelet — is an integral part of the Surrey school district’s Attendance Matters program. A fruit smoothie with yogurt, cheese sticks, cereal, milk, toast and fruit are also available.

Attendance Matters is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $100,000 so it can continue to provide breakfasts to 19 schools where childhood hunger is a daily concern.

At present, about 700 students in those schools are being fed. That number is projected to jump to more than 825 later in the winter, says Laura Lukey, the school district’s business development manager.

Many of the same children receiving breakfast in Forsyth Elementary are fed lunch which is provided by the provincial government’s Feeding Futures program.

In essence, that’s two meals a day for these children, which leaves their families with just one meal to provide, says Grewal.

And having the school provide those two meals — and in some cases weekend food — is necessary because some families can’t afford to adequately feed their children.

“They simply can’t, with inflation and everything,” she said.

“We’ve noticed it (the high cost of food) so imagine someone working for minimum wage? That’s not enough to provide everything they need. Our parents are working as hard as they can. We have parents literally crossing paths at the door — one’s going off to work, the other’s coming home.

“It obviously helps our students if they get a warm breakfast … and for parents if you know your child is getting a warm breakfast in the morning, you will be going off to work with a better feeling too,” she added.

Some families, once living comfortably, now find themselves impoverished.

“There is one — husband and wife both had good jobs — and three years ago the mom would always provide her daughter with an extra lunch so she could give it to another child who needed food.

“But the dad got hurt at work and lost his job and the mom lost her job because things were closing down and she had to come in and say, ‘I used to help people but now I’m so embarrassed to ask’. And I’m like, ‘That’s what we are here for.’

“So we’ve got people who’ve never been on this program, but the economy has taken a toll on their lives.”

Forsyth Elementary’s enrolment has rapidly expanded since Grewal arrived three years ago when she had 315 children under her care. Now she has 440, many of them newcomers to Canada either as immigrants or refugees.

“We are a vulnerable school, but I see the impact we have on these new families. There’s one family — dad not working, four children and a baby at home — I told the dad, ‘Yes we will give the four children breakfast and lunch.’ ”

Grewal was there when they first came into school for breakfast.

“You could see the nervousness. Can I take this? Can I have both of those? They are very thoughtful. You can see it going through their heads. If I take it, is it going to cost my parents? It’s all the stuff these kids carry.

“But once they feel fellowship and feel safe it’s actually the most beautiful thing to see.”

This year more than 200 applications totalling $2.4 million have been made to AAS in order to feed and clothe impoverished children.

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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