Charitable giving: Since 2011, about $12 million has been raised so that teachers can buy food for hungry children, clothe them, or provide whatever necessities they need to ensure their wellbeing.
Today is the start of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund annual Adopt-A-School campaign, when this newsroom asks our readers to consider the plight of tens of thousands of children who regularly arrive at school hungry.
At its worst, teachers report, the daily lack of food results in children complaining of stomach aches, having panic attacks, or throwing up bile — manifestations of the suffering and physical breakdown that hunger produces.
No right-minded person could believe it is ever acceptable to leave any child in this condition, which was the reason Adopt-A-School was launched in 2011.
Since then about $12 million has been sent to hundreds of schools for teachers to buy food for these children, clothe them, or provide whatever necessities they need to ensure their wellbeing.
The sad truth is schools have become the last resort for desperate families, and the weeping mother in the principal’s office — out of food, out of money, and out of hope — is not an urban legend.
The difference between 2011 and now is that the situation is worse.
Thus far, Adopt-A-School has received 204 applications from schools seeking assistance this campaign year. Embedded within them is a kind of suppressed panic at the scale of the help they need as an economic calamity has fallen on families attempting to exist on social assistance or minimum-wage jobs in the wake of COVID.
Unprecedented increases in housing and food costs are forcing parents to choose between paying rent or buying sufficient food.
So families endure hunger and their children are coming to school hungry with little or no food to survive the day. They are also often wearing clothes that provide little or no protection from the weather.
Many teachers have grave concerns, too, about what food is available for these children when they go home, or on weekends and during school holidays, and seek help from Adopt-A-School so they can feed them during those times.
Canada is the only country with a proper economy that has no national program to feed impoverished children.
We are members of the G7 and the 36-strong OECD (Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation) and all — bar Canada — have some form of national assisted food program.
This year, the B.C. government took an historic step and set aside $214 million over three years to feed hungry schoolchildren — acknowledgement that this problem needs a specific program.
However, the $71.3 million a year the program distributes must only be seen as a start, as it is nowhere near enough to feed all those in need.
Inevitably, much of that money is being absorbed in administration and infrastructure costs as school districts hire staff, pay salaries, acquire equipment, repurpose school space and deal with all the overhead such a start-up necessarily entails.
A Vancouver School Board official estimated its grant from Feeding Futures could feed perhaps 10 per cent of students that need it.
Amidst all this, one significant player is missing: the federal government.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to an adequate standard of living, must be protected from abuse and harm, and must not be treated as “objects of charity”.
But that is how we are treating them.
Some schools have seen the numbers seeking food rise precipitously. A Vancouver teacher who was feeding 30 to 40 students a day a year ago is now struggling to feed 60 to 70.
But perhaps the most alarming report has come from a principal in northern B.C. who said hundreds of hungry children were being turned away each day when what little food she had for breakfast ran out.
Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and Province, said the campaign this year was more important than ever, given the hardships many families are facing.
“Over the years, Adopt-A-School has been blessed by the generosity of our donors to the extent that no school which asked for help feeding children has ever been denied,” said Munro, who is also chair of the Children’s Fund board.
“During this campaign, stories from schools across the province will explain why help is so desperately needed. And we are committed to giving it to them. So, we are asking you — our readers — to stick with us and continue to support our efforts to feed and care for those children who need it most.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)