Students facing even greater challenges with homes under water

Students facing even greater challenges with homes under water

The children’s fund board, which administers Adopt-A-School, approved a grant of $10,000 to help the school in lieu of donations arriving, plus an extra $2,000 to cover emergencies that have arisen since the flooding.

The flooding that has brought widespread destruction to this Fraser Valley community has heaped misery on the poor and the financially comfortable alike.

And no one knows this better than Cameron Smith, a counsellor who works with at-risk and troubled teenagers at Yale Secondary — the school closest to the flat lands now under water.

In September when his world was dry and the blueberry fields could be seen, Smith had asked The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 so he could feed and care for 75 students under his wing, many of whom are living in poverty.

“It’s all about food, warmth and love,” said Smith in an interview just days before the floods began on Nov. 14. “That’s the basis of being able to help them. It’s not rocket science.”

But Smith’s three-legged stool had one leg missing. He could give them warmth and love, but not food, and many of them were hungry.

Providing food takes money, and he didn’t have any, so he asked Adopt-a-School for help.

Then came the floods. If things were difficult before, they now become disastrous.

“We have more kids than ever in need right now. Kids living with aunts and uncles. Me? I’m living with my family at my parents’ because we’ve given our home over to friends whose farm was flooded and they’ve got nowhere else to go.

“I saw a girl this morning — her whole blueberry farm is flooded — she has nowhere to go. Everything is a triage now. But we are managing — you do what you can.”

On Monday came some relief when he learned The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund was sending $12,000 to the school.

The children’s fund board, which administers Adopt-a-School, approved a grant of $10,000 to help the school in lieu of donations arriving, plus an extra $2,000 to cover emergencies that have arisen since the flooding and will be used to help students and families with clothes and necessities.

“We know our readers will help this school, but considering what is happening in Abbotsford, we felt it necessary to get money to them immediately,” said Harold Munro, editor in chief of The Vancouver Sun and Province.

Smith was elated when he heard the news.

“It was awesome. It’s been nothing but bad news here. But that was such good news. My principal was almost brought to tears when he heard. He was very emotional.

“Now we can tell kids, ‘Don’t worry about having your auntie pack you a lunch,’ because that can be a burden on some. We’re telling them, ‘Just come to school, don’t worry.’”

On Tuesday, staff were out buying food.

“We’re going to load up on food and make it available in the cafeteria, which has been closed (during the emergency) — meat and bagels and granola bars. We can heat up pizza for their lunch. We’ll have enough food to send home to their families because being able to help them out with food right now is a big thing.”

Counsellors in programs like Smith’s often deal with teenagers with mental health and anxiety problems, come from malfunctioning families, are in foster care or group homes, or are essentially homeless and couch surfing, might use drugs, or through poverty are in danger of being sexually or criminally exploited.

“I have a four- and a six-year-old — and obviously they are not old enough — but I couldn’t imagine them having to go through what some of these kids do on a daily basis. The stories I’ve heard over the years haunt me.”

Keeping them connected to school is essential and food is the biggest draw.

“If you don’t have food, if you don’t have warmth, if you don’t have love, how are you going to get them in the building so they can see a positive, caring adult?

“These kids are my passion. I’ve worked with them for years. They are kids who need that meal every day, who will come to school for breakfast where we can talk to them. What better way is there to connect?”

Many of his students coming to school are hungry and would stay that way all day if he didn’t have money to feed them.

“Ten years ago, I used to have funding, but (through provincial government restraint) it’s been all stripped away.

“I think our budget is a couple of hundred dollars for the year. It’s crazy.”



By Gerry Bellett (

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