Students’ needs are extreme in Surrey, where classrooms are growing rapidly.
It was a cold morning in Surrey, the temperature a few degrees above freezing.
But out in the playground, waiting for Prince Charles Elementary to open its doors, were some children braving the weather in only t-shirts.
They were conspicuous among those wearing down jackets and coats, and their lack of winter clothes would be noted by principal Kym Cook and child and youth care worker Amy Lauwers, who would later seek them out and discreetly make plans to clothe them.
But the sight of these children — dressed as if for summer at the end of November — was a reminder of the non-stop effort that needs to be made to protect the welfare of many of this school’s 375 students.
“A lot of our kiddos that walk in here every morning are in need,” said Cook. “We’ve grown by two classrooms this year, and every new family that’s come in has asked for support.
“They are asking for breakfast (for their children) in the morning and then lunch. They are asking for school supplies, and a really big need — winter clothing, boots and shoes.”
And some who won’t ask — Cook and Lauwers will find out anyway — need food to get their families through the week and over the weekend.
For instance, that morning Lauwers noticed a grandmother and, “I could just tell there was something going on.”
“I asked if everything was okay at home? And she said the power was out and they hadn’t had heat for some days. So, there was a lot of turmoil at home and things had gone bad in the fridge.
“She’s not one that would come and ask for anything, so I said, ‘Is there any food at home?’ because there’s four kids living in that house. And she said, ‘No, not really’.”
It is for such emergencies that the school is seeking help from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign so that grocery gift cards can be used to help families in such situations.
At least a third of the families whose children attend the school on 100th Avenue and 124th Street need some sort of help, Cook said.
To provide it, the school relies heavily on The Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for money to support its breakfast and lunch program, and emergency money to clothe children and help families in distress.
It is one of four Surrey schools where the needs are extreme, and combined these schools are asking for $200,000 from Adopt-A-School to feed hundreds of hungry children lunch each day.
In total, Prince Charles needs approximately $75,000 from Adopt-A-School so it can feed children breakfast and lunch, and $5,000 to provide jackets, underwear, socks, boots, shoes, food and other necessities.
“If we didn’t have that funding, I don’t know what we would do,” said Lauwers. “I really don’t because so many people come in here in crisis.”
The need for food is the biggest concern.
“Every day, kids are constantly asking for food,” she said.
About 50 to 60 children a day arrive for breakfast. Lunch is served to 104.
“Often kids are sitting on the steps outside at 7:30 in the morning and really, really hungry. I don’t know the last time they ate.”
But to identify families where hunger is prevalent — so staff can quietly intervene — Lauwers will often sit with the children eating breakfast.
“I won’t ask them directly, but I’ll tell them what I had for dinner last night and ask a collective question like what did they have for dinner because when you see them eating so much food … and some kids will say, ‘I didn’t have dinner last night’ or ‘I had some little fish crackers and cheese.
“In here, you don’t often hear from kids who’ve had an actual, proper meal.”
Food anxiety is often noticeable among refugee children.
“The kids come in and eat out of control because they’re not sure food will always be available. It’s like a panic at the beginning. It will take a few months for them to realize there’s going to be food here for them every day,” Lauwers explained.
“But they always want to take food away, hiding it in their backpacks. Today, we had muffins and 10 to 15 wanted to take some even though they knew they would be getting lunch.
“We make sure that no matter what, there will always be food available. We will never turn them away. How can you expect them to learn if all they are thinking about is how hungry they are? But even before academics the most important thing for these kids is to see that we care.
“That when you come in here you get love, hugs, whatever.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)