“Because of COVID we can’t bring volunteers into the building for the food program so we are trying to reinvent it. We are going to have to get prepared food and are looking to have leadership students with a cart to deliver it.” — Susan Reno
NANAIMO — COVID-19 has caused upheaval and distress in schools throughout the province but its effects are falling hardest on the poorest children as the unfortunate state of affairs at Wellington Secondary school clearly illustrates.
This time last year there were plenty of volunteers able to prepare meals to feed 250 impoverished students who arrived at the school in various stages of hunger.
Most had nothing to eat for breakfast and some needed lunch as well as they had come to school with no food to last the day.
While hunger hasn’t changed, the ability to feed those students has deteriorated.
It’s become a problem, says Susan Reno, a child youth and family support worker.
“Because of COVID we can’t bring volunteers into the building for the food program so we are trying to reinvent it,” said Reno. “We are going to have to get prepared food and are looking to have leadership students with a cart to deliver it.
“COVID has made a big difference in our ability to offer meals. Right now we are just feeding them granola bars but we want to be able to give them yogurt, fruit cups, protein bars. And we need to find someone to make sandwiches.”
The school is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $5,000.
There are 950 students and about a third are considered vulnerable, meaning they are in need of food, clothing and other necessities such as bus fare.
It is estimated that in 2019, 22 per cent of Nanaimo children were living in poverty. The single parent poverty rate was 53 per cent but loss of jobs and income as a result of the pandemic will have raised those estimates.
“We need funding to be able to assist families to provide the things their children need to be successful at school,” said Reno.
Apart from food, students need adequate clothing and footwear.
“Some students don’t have appropriate clothing. Some wear clothing that is too small or has holes and their parents can’t afford to provide new items.
“We are heading into winter and we have students who don’t have a proper coat. They come to school in all weather just wearing a fleece hoody and sit in class wet.
“If they are cold and wet they can’t learn,” she said.
She sees some girls coming to school in suede boots — barely better than slippers for keeping out the wet and cold.
“Definitely not the best thing to wear in our climate.”
“We want to be able to buy them adequate clothes,” she said.
Another blow from COVID is that it is preventing Reno and other family workers from using their cars to transport impoverished students to necessary medical or counselling appointments when they can’t afford bus fare.
Before the pandemic she would also use her car to bring students to school or take them home.
“I could drive them home in poor weather or pick them up when they were having trouble getting to school on time. I can’t do that anymore.”
So students will need to use buses but they don’t have the money for the fare.
Neither does the school, which is rationing bus tickets and trying to limit students to two tickets a year.
“COVID’s changed everything,” said Reno.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)