CRESTON — The winters here are harsh, so imagine how distraught Laury Carriere and her colleagues at Canyon-Lister Elementary are upon seeing children arrive at school — in temperatures way below zero — wearing summer clothes.
“We just can’t stand it, seeing little kids in a thin hoodies with wet feet and thin shoes walking in a foot of snow,” said Carriere, principal of the small East Kootenay school with 105 students.
“We are always trying to scrounge up money to fix it, but there’s never enough. And teachers end up paying for clothes and things themselves. They don’t talk about it, but I know that’s what they do.”
Winters are more severe than on the coast, and the school is located so far east that it’s in the Mountain Time zone with Alberta.
Some children are not only improperly dressed for winter, they arrive hungry, too, without having eaten breakfast and with little or nothing for lunch.
Carriere is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 to feed, clothe and provide after-school activities for her students.
“The money will enable us to provide lunches to children who come in without food or come in with a packet of potato chips or gummy bears or an uncooked hot-dog.”
She needs to feed these children nutritious and healthy food with a diet containing fruits and vegetables.
“They need vitamins, protein, nutrients, and it’s not cheap. I don’t want to be giving them Ichiban noodles, because that’s what they are probably getting at home.”
Poverty is the cause of these children not being dressed for winter and being without food for the day.
“The median income for people here is below the provincial average,” she said. “We know some families are struggling financially, and we’ve told them not to worry, we will provide breakfast and lunch. We don’t want anyone to be hungry, so we decided to make it formal and feed them.”
The school receives donations of used jackets and boots, but not enough to cover the need.
“So we buy everything second-hand and then we clean them and put them out and kids can borrow them. We have to lend them and hope we get them back, but often we don’t.
“Then there are times we don’t have the money to buy clothes, so that’s when teachers pay for it themselves.
“We really need to stock up on snow pants and boots so that when these children go outside to play they don’t freeze.”
The school was the first UNESCO school in the province.
“That means we made a formal commitment to making the world a better place. There are three UNESCO goals we need assistance with — zero hunger, reduced inequalities, and good health and wellbeing,” she said.
The $10,000 will be a big help to get there.
“If we are pledged to zero hunger then we’d better make sure that in our own building we have no hunger, which is why we need to give some kids lunch. We noticed the need a couple of years ago when we saw children sitting down with nothing to eat.
“It seems that poverty is getting worse as the number of children needing help has recently grown.”
She wants to reduce inequalities and promote good health by bringing in after-school activities so that all children can participate in a sport.
Some parents can’t afford having their children play community sports such as hockey or soccer or dance.
“We know these kids are not getting enough physical activity, so If we can provide activities they can all participate in — I’m thinking of judo, or floor hockey, indoor soccer — that will be a big help. We’ll talk about it with the kids and see what they decide.”
“Then we will need a bus to take them home because this isn’t the city and there is no bus service here. Some parents don’t have cars or might be working, so will need to hire transport,” said Carriere.
“Our goal is helping these kids learn, and to do that they need to be healthy, clothed and properly fed.”
The Vancouver Sun is being asked by schools across the province who are dealing with similar issues for $1 million worth of aid to feed and clothe impoverished children.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)