Staff at Park Avenue Elementary have been providing breakfast and a bagged lunch for children using food hampers being sent to the school and funds from the school district’s foundation. But that is all running out and without an injection of cash to buy food it can’t continue.
NANAIMO — In the world that existed before COVID-19 Jessica Nordal and staff at Park Avenue Elementary could handle the hunger among children in the school each day with a “few sandwiches someone would drop off.”
“We’d give them out at lunch,” said Nordal.
But that won’t do it anymore.
“Having a few sandwiches isn’t working,” she said.
When school started in September staff were confronted with the uncomfortable fact that they had 40 children whose parents were obviously having trouble feeding them.
“That’s an alarming number of families needing support,” said Nordal. “And they need it now more than ever. We realized we needed to switch from just sandwiches and create a breakfast and lunch program.”
Since school began staff have been providing breakfast and a bagged lunch for children using food hampers being sent to the school and funds from the school district’s foundation. But that is all running out and without an injection of cash to buy food it can’t continue.
The school has requested help from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign so breakfast and lunch can be provided to children for the rest of the school year.
AAS is administered by The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund and has distributed $6.5 million since 2011 to schools across the province to feed and clothe children in need.
Providing food is necessary, said Nordal, to ensure children don’t go hungry but also as a means to help their families who are struggling financially.
“Having food available at school will alleviate some of the financial burden that is on these families,” she said.
“To be honest we always felt there was quite a bit of need here already. But COVID put a light on it. And (before COVID) people didn’t really know how to have a conversation with us about all this.”
The need became more obvious in spring after the pandemic hit, Nordal said.
Many families across the province who were able to sustain themselves have slipped into poverty as a result of unemployment caused by the pandemic.
“In September we began the breakfast and lunch program and are already supporting many of our vulnerable families. The kids come to the multipurpose room and receive a warm breakfast and they leave with a bagged lunch.
“The funding (from AAS) would go directly to purchasing food. We would be buying bread, fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, jam, cereal, eggs, oatmeal, healthy lunch snacks and baguettes. The hope for the program is that no child goes hungry while at school,” said Nordal.
She also needs money to clothe some children who are arriving at school inappropriately dressed for the weather.
She has been collecting used coats and clothes for children without coats or wearing clothes too small for them. And she is finding children wearing shoes that have holes in the soles.
“They are coming in with wet feet. They don’t have gum boots and when you go to Walmart they will charge you $50 for a pair and that’s a lot of money for a struggling family,” she said.
“If you can give kids a couple of pair of pants it means the world to them. Last year I gave two sweaters to a boy who came to school in just a T-shirt and was freezing. He didn’t have a sweater and he’s still wearing them.
“His shoes have holes in them and I want to be able to buy him new ones,” Nordal said.
“There’s a lot going on with families today and the kids are anxious and hungry but we are a little safe haven for them.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)