Coquitlam’s Encompass Alternative program staff have been giving until it hurts

Coquitlam’s Encompass Alternative program staff have been giving until it hurts

Principal Lisa Dubé, youth worker Karin Leathwood and others at Coquitlam’s Encompass Alternative program — with their families, friends and acquaintances — know how it feels to give till it hurts.

Over the years The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign has found many instances of staff reaching into their pockets to help needy students.

But nothing quite like this.

As an instance, Leathwood was out Thursday in her truck delivering a new Ikea bed to a student who has been sleeping on a hard floor for months.

“Bless his heart the boy never asked us to buy him a bed. It just kinda came out in a conversation that he was sleeping on the floor and he said he was OK with it.

“But we couldn’t leave him like that,” said Leathwood.

So she posted an SOS on her Facebook page — something she has done a lot since joining the program in September — asking friends and family to help her buy the bed.

“I’ve hit them up so much, I’m surprised they answer my calls anymore.”

They seem to be still responding because “one friend gave me $500 and I was supplementing it with other donations here and there,” she said.

The student now has a bed with a frame, new mattress, sheets and accessories.

“It has drawers underneath and a sort of cubby-desk as well. We tried to maximize what we could get for him.”

Meanwhile, Dubé admits to dipping into her own resources and has bought food, clothes, toiletries and other necessities for students in the program.

Many don’t need help as their families are financially secure, she said, but there are other families struggling financially.

“Yes, I’ve given students gift cards to Subway or Walmart so they can buy what they need. But it’s not just me giving something out of my own pocket. We all do here, our staff, teachers — everyone who works in this building.

“Someone will say ‘there’s a kid who’s not eating and he loves Dominoes Pizza so let’s go and get him some,’” she said.

The problem is the program has no money to buy food for students coming in hungry or to provide coats and shoes for those coming wet and cold.

Leathwood found this out her first week at work.

“We were giving out donated bananas but once we were out — me being new — I thought I’d just get the school credit card and go down to the Superstore and buy some snacks. But I was told ‘no, we don’t have the money.’”

“We have no money for food, zero.”

She had a good connection with the Share Foodbank so went there to find something to feed students who were hungry.

“I go once a month and load up whatever they have — granola bars, fruit snacks — whatever was individually wrapped and free I’d take.

“But I’m offering those same damn granola bars every day.”

Those along with donations of Cobs Bread and some cartons of milk have formed the basis of the food given to students who need feeding.

Right now the only protein being distributed is the remainder of 45 cases of tuna that her sister, who works for Ocean Brands in Richmond, said were available.

“She told me she had this end of run which would expire in three months so I drove out to a loading dock in Richmond and we loaded up all these cases into the back of my old truck.

“Then I put a call out to all the youth workers (in the Coquitlam area) to let them know they could have some because I can’t move 45 cases here before it expires.”

“But right now that’s all the food we have on hand. Tuna.”

Dubé said if they had money they would provide a proper grab-and-go breakfast — give students a variety of healthy food — instead of just granola bars.

She wants to be able to buy winter coats and boots. They have been trying to make do with hand-me-downs, she said, but they need to buy new clothes.

“The kids won’t ask. They think they don’t deserve it but they do. They’ll go ‘I like this hoodie, this was from my grandma last year’ and you think ‘yes, I know, but it’s threadbare.’”

For those arriving at school without a coat and soaked from the rain she has blankets to keep them warm.

She also had a heater to dry out their shoes so they wouldn’t go home with wet feet but it blew a breaker and now doesn’t work.

Some students have part-time jobs and one youth works at landscaping.

But he didn’t have work boots or a coat and was coming home from work “hardly able to bend his fingers, they were so cold,” said Leathwood.

“He was working hard with wet feet and still showing up for work. So I went to Facebook, to my friends, and some said ‘my husband’s got a pair of old boots’ but there was a girl I went to junior high with — I’m 49 — and haven’t seen since. She private messaged and said ‘no, the kid needs proper boots for work so how much do you need?’”

“And then — boom — we got a rain jacket and then another friend said ‘I’m sending you $100. Put it inside his new boots.”

This week she and other staff at the program have been assembling Christmas hampers for  families who need them.

But it has been hard to find the resources needed to make proper hampers, she said. They had no fresh vegetables or fruit and just one turkey among 17 families. They decided it had to go to the most needy family.

“We didn’t have the funds to make proper hampers and I just couldn’t ask any more of my family or the staff,” Leathwood said.

However, when the plight of the program came to light Wednesday The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board which administers AAS approved an emergency grant while it deals with its application for help.

Leathwood was delighted.

“I’m going out to buy enough turkeys for everyone.”

By Gerry Bellett (

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