It’s Friday and lunch day at Burnaby’s Douglas Road Elementary and there’s nothing but joy on the face of principal Mary-Ann Brown as she dishes out the macaroni and cheese to the line of waiting children each holding a plastic container and spoon.
“We do this once a week and the kids just love it,” says Brown “The Lotus Cafe makes it for us. Some weeks it’s beef stew or pasta and alfredo sauce or teriyaki chicken – it’s mostly casserole-type things because it’s easy to serve,” she says.
There is no kitchen in the school and lunch from Monday to Thursday is whatever the children bring with them.
There’s a jar next to the macaroni for children put in their $3 for the meal, but occasionally there’s a child in the lineup who is unable to pay. So into the jar goes a small coupon instead.
That coupon will be redeemed by a fund donated last year by employees from the headquarters of the nearby Beedie Development Group as part of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-ASchool campaign.
Without that fund Brown would never order in food, as it would leave the children whose families could not afford it on the sidelines.
“I had always wanted to have a lunch day, but we could only do it if it was totally paid for. We couldn’t be feeding some but not others.”
The Beedie Group’s donation is not only making lunch day possible, but also a free breakfast that is served every day inside the staff room for 50 or so children.
That Brown and her staff would give up their sanctuary to prepare and serve cereal, toast, yogurt, cheese strings – sometimes staff cook up pancakes at home and bring them in, other days they will come in with scrambled eggs – says everything about how necessary it is. Bahare Poleshuk and Mason Bennett, two of the group of Beedie employees who between them raised more than $60,000 (matched by the company) to feed the children, are more than delighted with how Brown and her staff are coping.
“We originally planned that the $80,000 set aside for food would last five years, but they are so frugal it will do at least seven,” said Bennett.
“But it’s a lot of work for them. I know Mary-Ann does a lot of the shopping and is really trying to stretch the money and the staff there are so engaged. We just hope they don’t suffer fatigue and burnout.”
Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business is currently studying children at the school to see what effect feeding the hungry has on their academic performance. Ryan Beedie, president of the BeedieDevelopment Group. which commissioned the study, said the results might impact government policy in regards to schools that are struggling to feed impoverished children.
Beedie said it was important to measure the efficacy of the breakfast program to see if it was having the intended effects.
“We believe it is, but we need to have data and statistical evidence to take to the marketplace and say ‘look this is what feeding these children is doing for them,’ ” said Beedie.
“Often companies or philanthropists will help if they can see their donations are doing something concrete. People won’t respond to some vague idea that they are helping. They need to see what their money is doing.
“We hope to inspire other companies to adopt schools which need help. But we are also thinking the findings could impact government policy,” he said.
“Once we have the results of the SFU study we want to share the information so other companies will be encouraged to come forward and adopt a school, too,” Poleshuk said.
Considering the scale of what the Beedie employees have done, has adopting this school brought the satisfaction hoped for?
“It’s been more than what we expected,” says Bennett. “We wanted to be able to support families in need and the school offers us the perfectway to do that. For us it’s mission accomplished.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)