Nakusp Secondary School principal Peter Gajda is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt A School campaign for $5,000 to provide more food and hot meals each week.
NAKUSP — It sounds like an apology but it’s really a joke when Peter Gajda says that for people who don’t know much about the town it’s usually described as being two hours from anywhere.
“Two hours from Vernon, two hours from Revelstoke, two hours from Nelson and two hours from Castlegar,” said the principal of Nakusp Secondary School.
“We’re pretty isolated,” Gajda said.
That’s a geographical description but when asked to describe the economic situation of the area he doesn’t want to use the word impoverished.
Nevertheless, Nakusp, he says, “is closer to the poverty line than a lot of other big centres.”
“There’s no major industry in the area to speak of — a lot of tiny logging companies, the ferry and the school district are probably the biggest employers.”
And if there was economic hardship before, COVID-19 has only made things worse.
“So we have lots of kids who come to school hungry. Our goal is to feed them because kids who are fed are ready to learn.”
“We’ve gotten to the point where we feel that providing meals to kids is one of the best ways to help them be successful at school,” said Gajda.
He said the availability of food would “decrease office referrals and absenteeism, improve academic performance and (produce) a more positive climate and culture in the building.”
There are 140 students in his school half of whom are coming to school without breakfast.
“In a bigger school I don’t think you would see those numbers but in this economic climate those numbers show we have kids in need. And a lot of our kids have come to rely (on being fed). They know they can come to the office and ask for a lunch voucher or get a lunch right out of the fridge,” he said.
The school is grateful for the support it also receives from the community, Breakfast Club of Canada, the local Rotary Club and the education ministry’s Community Link grant which help him deal with some of the issues poverty brings to the school.
“We can do a lot of things with the money the ministry gives us but buying food for kids is not always an option.”
The $3,000 sent to the school from The Vancouver Sun AAS COVID relief fund got them through the spring and allowed them to feed families in need, he said.
“The help was great. We had a teacher driving an hour each way to deliver food to families and after you ran the story we had people calling us and the school district to offer help.”
At present the school provides a hot breakfast and lunch once a week with cold breakfasts available other days.
Gajda is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt A School (AAS) campaign for $5,000 to provide more food and hot meals each week.
“We want to offer hot breakfast options and expand our lunch program. We will need to buy milk, bread, bagels, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, sausage, ingredients for pancakes and muffins. Our lunch options would expand to include homemade soups, chili, grilled cheese …”
“We’d love to be able to fund it out of our school budget but we can’t,” said Gajda.
With the AAS grant he will not only expand the variety of food available but will be able to feed more children, he said.
“We hear from a lot of parents how happy they are that their kids can be fed. Without (AAS) funding all these options would disappear,” he said.
And that would be a disaster for some families.
“We have about 10 to 15 per cent of our kids for whom breakfast and lunch are probably two of the best meals they get all day.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)