Pandemic job losses at home sending kids to school hungry

Pandemic job losses at home sending kids to school hungry

For the past few years, a make-shift ensemble of parent volunteers, the Salvation Army and the local food bank have been trying to address hunger among some of the children attending Maple Ridge’s Blue Mountain Elementary.

But this year, the dynamic has shifted, with the number of children in need of food growing dramatically while the resources of the Salvation Army and the food bank have shrunk.

This leaves the parent volunteers who bring in Ritz crackers, cheese strings and cartons of apple sauce in the morning unable to paper over the cracks.

So principal Laureen Hickey needs $5,000 to buy food to ensure her hungry students can be fed, and has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for help.

She wants to provide a more substantial breakfast and relieve the parent volunteers of the necessity of using their own money to buy the crackers and cheese strings now being offered.

“We have parents who are fantastic, coming in and putting these things out, but we’d like to have something more robust (for the children to eat) and something more steady,” she said. “We have students coming into school who usually haven’t had breakfast, and we have kids who don’t have lunch or come with just a granola bar. It can be as many as 25 a day.

“That’s a dramatic increase. We know some families are financially strapped, but we’ve noticed an increase in students who seemed fine before COVID but whose families are struggling now through not being able to work.”

It is a familiar theme throughout B.C., with many schools reporting an increased need to help children whose parents have lost jobs during the pandemic.

“I can tell there’s definitely financial struggles at home and there are more and more families who will come and talk about it. It’s a bit of a taboo as parents don’t like to approach you (on this). But I find some parents saying, ‘I’m desperate. I need to let you know this.’ Some will ask, ‘Is there a breakfast club or a lunch club?’

“My general impression is that there isn’t a whole lot of food in the house and they are having a hard time making ends meet.”

The high cost of rent is playing its part for the lack of food for some households.

“They will often say, ‘My shelter costs this much, and utilities this much, and then there’s school supplies …’”

The Salvation Army delivers bread and meat or cheese once a week to make sandwiches for lunch.

“But it only goes so far and their budget has been cut as well, so our parents are trying to provide the extra,” she said.

It’s the same story with the food bank, which used to deliver yoghurt and cartons of milk and granola bars.

“This year, it’s very sparse, and there’s another budget cutback so we don’t get as much as we used to.”

The Adopt-A-School campaign has distributed more than $8 million to school’s throughout the province since 2011.

The money has been used to feed and clothe children who come to school hungry or in clothes inappropriate for the weather.

This year, the campaign has been overwhelmed with requests from schools such as Blue Mountain with reports of alarming increases in students arriving hungry and without sufficient food to last the day.

Many schools across the province report that job losses from the pandemic have tipped many families into poverty.

Over 180 schools are seeking help from Adopt-A-School this year, with requests totaling about $2 million — an increase of about 50 per cent over last year.



By Gerry Bellett (

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