Wildfires caused additional pressure on hungry kids

Wildfires caused additional pressure on hungry kids

The Vernon school district is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $8,500 so it can continue to provide lunch for 206 children daily.

For schools in Vernon it was hard enough dealing with the effects of the pandemic and the precipitous rise in the number of families falling into poverty as jobs vanished. Then came the wildfires.

A summer like no other caused havoc and misery throughout the Okanagan with mass evacuations and families being burnt out.

And now the school district is counting the cost and coming up short in its efforts to feed children impoverished by it all.

Christine Love, director of student support services for School District 22, said it was when schools were closed last year due to the pandemic that they found increasing numbers of students who needed feeding at home.

Like many other school districts across the province, officials realized they needed to continue feeding impoverished children who had relied on schools for their daily food.

With schools closed, the district instituted a brown-bag lunch program.

“We were delivering about 200 lunches a day to schools so families could pick them up,” said Love. “But now we have transitioned back to in-person classes, and the numbers (of children needing food) haven’t gone down. Those kids still need lunch.

“Compounding all this, the wildfires put an additional (financial) strain on our families. We are a town with socio-economic diverse groups so we have some pockets in town where we have wealthy people and have some areas where people are just barely scraping by.

“Our schools in those (economically depressed) areas are the ones that need a higher degree of food support,” she said.

Love said it has been difficult to figure out the numbers of families who were suffering poverty as a result of losing their homes to wildfires.

“Some of the families haven’t been sharing that information very much,” she said. “I’ll go to a school and be told, ‘Oh, we’d been trying to figure out what’s going on with a particular student,’ then the principal will say, ‘Yes, (we found out) this student lost their home to the wildfires and had to relocate.’”

She said a number of evacuated families were out of their homes from summer until mid-September, which had caused additional financial pressure on their incomes. Among those forced from their homes were 100 First Nations students from the Okanagan Indian Band.

However, the pandemic and the wildfires have given the district a better idea of the numbers of families needing help, Love said.

“Definitely a brighter light has been shone on those families that need support.”

Love said the school district uses funds from the provincial government’s CommunityLINK program to provide impoverished children a free lunch.

But the money available isn’t enough to feed all the needy students for the whole of the school year.

Because of this shortfall, the district is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $8,500 so it can continue to provide lunch to 206 children each day.

“That’s why we are looking for additional sources of funding and support. We can’t quite make it to the end of the year,” Love said. “The $8,500 will feed those children during May and June.”



By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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