Added burden to some families who don’t have their own vehicles or who find the cost of gas for a round trip of 140 kilometres to a supermarket difficult to afford.
The elementary school in the hamlet of Hixon has provided 102 years of community service to families in this rural part of the North Cariboo.
But the school has probably never been needed as much as it is today with a cost-of-living crisis forcing families to rely on it to feed and clothe their children.
“Poverty in remote areas often means families do not have access to support or agencies that are available to children in more populated areas,” said Hixon Elementary vice-principal John Forbes. “Many families have become reliant on schools to help provide food and clothing for their children.”
Except for the school and its 44 students — as well as some houses and a couple of gas stations and restaurants — there’s not much here, said Forbes.
This unincorporated community is a 2.5-square-kilometre dot on the Cariboo Highway equidistant from Prince George to the north and Quesnel to the south.
The main employer is Dunkley Lumber, a sawmill south of Hixon. Other jobs can be found at the gas stations or restaurants during peak season, but that’s about it.
So there’s unemployment to contend with, he said.
And because of that he needs to find the means to keep some children — coming to school hungry — fed during the day.
Forbes is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $6,000 to supplement the $1,500 he received from the provincial Feeding Futures program so he can ensure children get sufficient food.
“There’s a lot of need for additional support for food, so that’s why I want to offer breakfast to everyone in the building,” said Forbes. “But I was hoping to branch out to providing lunch and snacks as well.”
He is trying to spin out the government money serving non-sugar cereal and milk for breakfast, but he wants to be able to offer something more substantial.
“Last year, we had a bigger budget, and we’d have yogurt and oatmeal, lots more fruit — more options,” he explained.
“I want to get a cooking program going where the older kids will provide meals for the whole school, so this would be part of their educational day along with numeracy and literacy.
“It would be something positive for the school and ensure all mouths are fed that need feeding.”
With Adopt-A-School money he could have Grade 7 students “prepare something more substantial … something more creative than a bowl of cereal.”
Last year, he used money from the one-time provincial government Affordability Fund to help some families buy such things as toilet paper and other necessities when the need arose.
He has some government money again this year.
“We do a pretty good job of managing food and making sure kids have the necessary things they need for school, but we don’t want to make families feel needy at any time,” he said.
For families needing food to get through the weekend, a dozen bags of groceries are sent down each week from Prince George Secondary school.
The nearest grocery store that would offer more than bags of potato chips and pop or the limited packaged staples that can be found in the local gas stations, is more than 70 kilometres away in Prince George or Quesnel, he said.
This is an added burden to some families who don’t have their own vehicles or who find the cost of gas for a round trip of 140 kilometres to a supermarket difficult to afford.
“There are families without access to vehicles and have to rely on family and friends to get to the city for groceries,” he said.
“I live in Prince George, by Save-On-Foods, and can head to the store in a couple of minutes. If I forget something, I can go back and get it.
“But here you have to make a plan to go to the city. If you miss something, these families don’t get another chance for a week or so.”
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)