Adopt-A-School: COVID adding to pressures of impoverished
For almost 20 years Amy Lauwers, the child care worker at Surrey’s Prince Charles Elementary school, has been helping families trapped by poverty but she’s now seeing families going under who in normal times were self-sufficient.
“Now the pandemic’s in play it’s difficult for some people to stay working and I know the government funding of $2,000 sounded like a lot but that’s nothing when you have to pay rent, heat and all your expenses,” said Lauwers.
Her school on 100th Ave. and 124th St. has a school population of 330 children but when she adds up the families presently in need of help with food, clothing or money to pay an emergency medical bill she arrives at 75.
That’s an awful lot of need, which is why the school is appealing once again for help from The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund and its Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign.
The school needs emergency funds to support families when they have nowhere else to turn for help. Over this last year AAS sent $600,000 to Surrey schools to provide food, clothes and emergency funds to help impoverished families.
A mother with four children at the school, who asked her name not to be published, offered an example of how a self-sufficient family found themselves struggling financially due to COVID-19 and how the school’s AAS funding kept them going.
The family originally lived in Cache Creek, said the mother, but her son has a rare genetic disorder that required constant trips to the Lower Mainland for treatment so both parents left their jobs and moved to the coast.
Unable to find accommodation at the price they were used to in the Interior, the family settled in the Prince Charles Elementary area because it offered cheaper housing. When school started last fall the mother didn’t have enough money to buy school supplies.
“But Mrs. Lomax (the principal) said ‘not to worry we will make sure you’ll get what you need.’”
While her husband looked for work she found a job but on just one income they were financially struggling last Christmas. Their son has medical expenses not fully covered by government plans and she couldn’t afford to buy her daughter a winter jacket as the one she was wearing was too small.
“Then one day she comes home and shows me this new jacket the school had bought her. The school’s a great community. Parents can ask for help without thinking they are going to be judged or thought of as bad parents,” she said.
Earlier this year her husband found low paying work. But then the pandemic struck and she soon lost her job with a private healthcare company that required her to visit clients’ homes. This put them back to existing on a single, inadequate income.
It was the free school breakfasts and lunches for her children that saved her money on food and when the school was shut down by the pandemic the family received food hampers and supermarket gift cards to ensure they were being fed.
“When you are getting hampers dropped off and the kids see it they worry and get nervous because it’s a change and they wonder what’s going on. And with the pandemic there’s already a lot of anxiety. As a parent it’s a bit lowering, too, it makes you feel like you are not doing all you possibly can.
“But with the gift cards I could go to the store and buy what we need and come back with bags and to the kids it looked more normal,” she said.
Earlier this month the mother went back to work, which was good news, but then she learned they would have to move out of their rented house because the landlord was moving back in as a result of the pandemic.
Once again COVID-19 had upended their finances.
“Houses now are renting for $800 more than we are paying and every house you look at has 20 other families looking at the same place,” she said.
However, she feels sympathy for those parents without jobs who have been forced to move because of the pandemic.
“They have lost jobs and are on UI and to rent a place you need to show you are employed. What’s going to happen to those families, are they going to end up homeless?”
But wherever her family ends up living, the children will stay at Prince Charles Elementary.
“When you come across people like this in your life, you never want to lose them.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)