WILLIAMS LAKE — The COVID-19 pandemic has left many teachers across the province scrambling to feed impoverished children going hungry now that school meals aren’t available, but the challenges facing principal Calvin Dubray here are on another scale.
He is trying to feed students scattered across an area the size of New Brunswick.
The distances between communities and schools in the Cariboo-Chilcotin school district are larger than any other district in the province. School buses clock up 1.4 million kms a year ferrying children to school — 12,000 kms a day.
Community resources that include donations from companies and residents and partnerships with local firms were almost exhausted last week when he asked the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund for $20,000 to get them through the summer.
“We are being stretched and our list of families and kids that need help is continuing to grow,” said Dubray. “We have to support our most vulnerable children. Many of these are from impoverished families already and all this has just added to their stress.”
“We want to help relieve the stress of poverty and hunger by supporting them until we can return to some sense of normalcy,” he said. “Now, we’ve got flooding here to contend with. People are really anxious, and getting food to them is a major concern.”
Flood warnings have been issued in the Chilcotin and Cariboo as rivers and streams rise around Williams Lake, Quesnel, Alexis Creek, Anahim Lake and Cache Creek.
Some families are so destitute Dubray has needed to refer them to the Salvation Army or the local food bank.
“But (those organizations) are being inundated, too,” he said. “We are trying to do what we can, but when you have six kids in a family we need to send two parcels of food for them.”
He and a colleague in 100 Mile House are dispatching food parcels across the region, many to remote First Nations communities to the west that have closed their reserves to outsiders.
“We have some really desperate families. Some communities take four hours to reach by car from Williams Lake. So we are sending two weeks worth of food parcels to those communities,” he said.
Deliveries are being made by drivers who would normally be driving school buses. Education assistants and First Nations workers are shopping and packaging food parcels.
“There’s real hardship there and the food packages we send help supplement what they have,” he said.
The closure of schools last month prevented thousands of impoverished children from receiving school meals provided by the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Adopt-A-School program, which this year had sent almost $900,000 to schools across the province.
To help deliver emergency food or grocery vouchers to the doors of these families or set up food grab-and-go sites on school grounds, the children’s fund began a special Adopt-A-School COVID-19 appeal.
To date, Adopt-A-School has distributed $700,000 to 42 applicants across the province from the COVID-19 fund.
Vancouver Sun and Province editor-in-chief Harold Munro, who is also the chair of the children’s fund board, thanked readers for supporting the COVID-19 appeal.
“None of the help these children and families desperately need would be available without the generosity of our readers,” said Munro.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)