Bonnie Wendt describes the educational benefits of feeding impoverished and hungry students.
For those with sufficient income, tonight is the traditional time for gifting. But for Bonnie Wendt, giving is a year-long endeavour.
Most mornings, she arrives at Killarney Secondary in East Vancouver carrying something she has cooked, bought or removed from her home.
It could be a pot of stew and fresh bread, as it was the day she was interviewed.
It could also be a cooked salmon, boxes of instant noodles from Costco, food for breakfast and lunch, or the microwave she had to apologize for taking from the basement after her husband wondered where it had gone.
That joined the kettle, a miniature fridge, a small oven, a toaster, a rice cooker and other sundry kitchen items and utensils she liberated from home that can now be found in her office, where she feeds teenagers arriving hungry in the morning and without food to last the day.
About the only thing she hasn’t lugged in is the full-size fridge she wishes she had that would allow her to store more food.
So how much is this solo effort at poverty relief costing her?
“I don’t know. I don’t count it,” she said.
Her job is to help Indigenous students, but the impoverished teenagers she is feeding at her own expense and attempting to clothe are an ethnic cross-section of the 1,700 students attending Killarney.
But she can’t afford to buy the quality of food she wants to give them.
The pandemic has prevented her fundraising efforts — selling Bannock at $1 apiece, or running raffles — to find the money she needs to clothe students like she has done in the past.
“There are lots of kids here needing winter coats — at least 50,” she said. “I’d like to get them good coats, not just the cheapest, but something to keep them warm and dry.”
This is why she has asked The Vancouver Sun‘s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000, so she can improve the quality of food and be able to buy some decent coats.
For now, breakfast is fruit cups, some yogurt and instant cereal and juice boxes. Lunch is sometimes bread and noodles or Kraft Dinner.
While being interviewed, she is keeping up a running conversation with students entering her room looking for lunch.
“I’ve bought the noodles you like — the beef noodles, not the spicy ones, so help yourself. I’ve brought you some stew from my house because I know you like it.”
“Sorry about that,” she apologizes, getting back to the interview.
“It’s usually about 10 or 12 kids we feed — it’s not always the same ones — but they are hungry. Today, I’ve had about 15 kids in.
“Some like to arrive early hoping to get food before they are seen, others come in and pick up the food and leave because they, too, are embarrassed. I’m okay with that as long as they are eating.”
She describes the educational benefits of feeding impoverished and hungry students.
“For a while, I was getting lots of teachers calling me to go and deal with kids who were being miserable, and I just couldn’t figure out why.
“But once I started talking to these kids and asking, ‘What’s the problem? It was, ‘I’m hungry’.
“So it was, ‘Oh my God, you just need to eat’.”
Feeding them has paid off.
“I have a lot less behavioural problems to deal with now.”
Food isn’t all she provides. There are the towels and soap and shampoo some students need so they can shower in school after PE.
“Some kids don’t have towels and shampoo, so they won’t shower after PE. If I can find stuff on sale, I’ll get it for them.”
“I make them little travel bags with shampoo and soap containers that can be refilled. And sometimes I’ll get their towels washed.”
The Vancouver law company Nathanson Schachter and Thompson LLP has supported Adopt-A-School since 2013, and having learnt of Wendt’s situation donated $10,000 for Killarney. This is in addition to $5,000 for Surrey’s David Brankin Elementary to feed hungry students.
Company partner Irwin Nathanson said they wanted to support “the good work she is doing.”
“Bonnie’s dedication and sacrifice reminds us that we can all do more to help youth in our community.”
KILLARNEY SECONDARY FUNDRAISING PAGE HERE
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)