Although the school boundary stretches all the way north to within 40 kilometres of Egmont and south down the bucolic highway to Sechelt, Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary school has just 75 students.
The small, rural school over which principal Chris Lekakis presides, with its totems out front on the Sunshine Coast Highway, isn’t immune from the sort of poverty afflicting inner-city schools in places such as Vancouver.
And although the school boundary stretches all the way north to within 40 kilometres of Egmont and south down the bucolic highway to Sechelt, Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary school has just 75 students.
When The Vancouver Sun caught up with Lekakis by phone during the week before Christmas break, he was driving down the highway, his car filled with groceries to feed students who usually arrive at school hungry each morning.
He pulled his car over and stopped to talk.
Some of the social issues facing Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary, he says, were normally resolved by fundraising events in the community.
But COVID has prevented that.
“Our school relies on some excellent volunteer partnerships to provide hot breakfast, hot lunch and healthy snacks, but with COVID not allowing large gatherings, we have not been able to have that fundraising,” he said.
That is why he is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $11,000 so he can buy food and clothing and groceries for a number of families in need of help.
It will also allow him to expand the school’s meal program so that a hot breakfast or lunch will be available every day instead of just a few days a week.
But with the restrictions on non-staff entering schools, the food will have to be prepared off-site in commercial kitchens then brought in because no volunteers can enter the building, says Lekakis.
COVID has added to the pressure to step up the help as some local businesses have closed, causing unemployment in the community.
“My worry is more families are becoming affected by job losses. We’re a tourism town, and tourism is down because of COVID. That’s bad because that industry employs a lot of our parents.
“And we are noticing kids coming to school hungry and not bringing lunches. So with help from Adopt-A-School, we will be able to offer meals five days a week,” he said.
He adds what every teacher in the province would say given the circumstances.
“When kids can’t have their basic needs met — food and shelter — it interferes with their ability to learn.”
In the spring, Adopt-A-School gave the school $5,000 so food could be delivered to students and families when schools were closed by COVID.
Some families have told Lekakis they are having a tough time making ends meet.
“With these funds, we could provide clothing, shoes, socks, underwear — basic necessities — and that’s important as we extend into the winter,” he said.
For families struggling to find sufficient food for the weekends, he will use the money to buy them groceries.
“I want to acknowledge the tremendous support The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School has given us,” he said.
The Adopt-A-School campaign has requests from more than 100 schools across B.C. struggling to feed and clothe children coming to school hungry and without proper coats and shoes for the weather.
This year’s requests total over $1 million.
Since the campaign began in 2011, more than $6.5 million has been sent to schools to alleviate poverty by setting up meal programs to feed hungry children or buying them clothes or other necessities their parents are unable to provide.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)