James Hill Elementary Principal Lynn Fairley is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $11,000 to keep her breakfast, lunch and weekend food going.
What do you do as a principal when you see 26 children coming to school hungry every day without food for lunch or just a meagre sandwich, and at least eight going home for the weekends to more hunger?
What do you do when there is no money in the system to adequately cover breakfast or lunch for these children and for the bags of food you need to send home Friday afternoons?
Well, if you are Lynn Fairley, principal of Langley’s James Hill Elementary, you get inventive. She has managing to feed 26 children every day and send food home on the weekends.
So where does she get the money?
There’s an embarrassed laugh before she answers: “My fundraising’s been personal. I’ve hit up my mum, and I’ve hit up my friends.”
There’s no need to excuse generosity, but she does anyway.
“They’re in a position to give.”
But personal benevolence along with some money from a local church and the $500 a national bank sent after she appealed for help, plus $200 a month from the Langley School Foundation, is barely holding the line.
She had hoped that her fundraising would get them through the year, but the number of children arriving hungry in September was an unpleasant surprise.
“We weren’t anticipating feeding so many, so we’re running through the money quite quickly,” she said.
Soon it will be gone.
Fairley is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $11,000 to keep her breakfast, lunch and weekend food program afloat.
Her school on Old Yale Road, south of the Fraser Highway, is in an established Langley neighbourhood of older homes that has seen changes in recent years.
“We’ve had a social housing development come in. The houses here are older and people are now renting out small suites in their basements to help support the mortgage,” she said.
She attributes the number of children arriving hungry to the loss of jobs due to the pandemic and the high cost of rent, which is leaving families on social assistance or relying on minimum wage salaries, short of money to buy food.
“We have refugee families, families living paycheque to paycheque, trying to pay their bills with nothing extra. And more single-parent families.”
Thankfully, other families in the school of 300 students have helped out, as has a local church.
“Last Christmas, we sponsored 26 families, did all their Christmas gifts, Christmas dinner, and gave them enough food for the two-week holiday.”
The church bakes muffins to help feed hungry students.
“We are trying to wrap ourselves around and help because our community is a living, breathing organism for all of us,” she said. “Some kids don’t come to school because their parents are embarrassed they can’t give them food for lunch. We tell them we’ll always feed your child. Bring them to school, they’ll be taken care of.”
However, she is not happy with the quality of the food she is able to provide.
“I’d like healthier choices. We do cheese strings, yoghurt and pieces of fruit for breakfast. It’s a grab and go. Lunches, too, and sometimes it’s foot-long sugary treats.”
She has the same concerns about the quality of food she sends home for the weekends.
“Some families don’t have a lot of food in the house, so we try to supplement it by buying things to make quick, easy meals.
“I’m not super proud of the quality because we are trying to stretch the food dollars, but we will send macaroni and cheese, some fruit and yogurt, cheese strings, just so we know these kids are eating at the weekend.”
With more money, she would be able to increase the quality of food.
“(For breakfast) we would like to make them something like egg-mcmuffins and give them granola, which is expensive,” Fairley said.
If she can find the money to provide a hot breakfast and a decent lunch, her next problem would be finding sufficient volunteers to prepare them.
Before the pandemic, the volunteers that helped in the school were mostly seniors from neighbourhood churches.
But with COVID still rampant, she doesn’t want to risk the health of elderly volunteers by inviting them into the school.
“We need younger volunteers,” she said. “But finding them is hard. That’s why pre-made things like granola are helpful.”
Her application to Adopt-A-School contained a fitting epigram for why feeding hungry children is necessary if they are to learn: “The growls of hunger will drown out the voice of a teacher every time.”
JAMES HILL ELEMENTARY FUNDRAISING PAGE HERE
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)