Coquitlam: Help Buy Breakfast for Students
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Robin Pilchak knows what it's like being a single mother with young children and how hard it is to feed them when money is tight.

"I'm a single mom with three kids, and I struggled for quite a while. It's not easy to get good, healthy food for kids because it costs so much," said Pilchak. "When my kids were growing up, there weren't any programs in schools to feed kids. We really could have used something."

This explains why Pilchak shows up each day at Birchland Elementary in the north end of Port Coquitlam at 7:30 a.m. to feed hungry children.

That, and a kind heart, because she's not getting paid to do it.

Her day job is with the Kateslem Youth Society, a non-profit that works in the Coquitlam school district providing a variety of services, including helping to feed lunch to needy children.

Last year, the society received $10,000 for food and kitchen equipment from The Vancouver Sun's Adopt-A-School campaign to support its work.

But society executive director Karyn Bell said now they need to start feeding children breakfast at some schools where they are arriving hungry.

Birchland is one, but Kateslem's shoestring budget doesn't have the money to pay staff to do it.

"We wondered what we could do, but then Robin said, 'Don't worry, Karyn, I'll do it. Somehow we'll make it work.'So she's volunteering her time and we couldn't do it without her," said Bell.

But there is another  problem.

There isn't enough money to give the 15 or so children who need feeding either sufficient food or a  qualitybreakfast.

School principal Elspeth Anjos said the school has had people and organizations support them in the past, but the help is drying up.

"We've had cutbacks. It's not donor fatigue, I don't think. It's just there are so many demands on donors and there's lots of good causes, so they get torn," said Anjos. "And there's only so much in the kitty, so everyone gets less. Our Aboriginal youth worker and Kateslem pitch in, but we've had to cut things out. We used to make smoothies out of fruit and yogurt, but it got to be too pricey."

Pilchak often finds only a few basics available to feed the children - toast, cereal, bagels, some yogurt and pancakes on Fridays, sometimes made with pancake mix brought in from home.

"The portions are too small for the kids and there's not enough good, quality food we can give them. I'd like to expand it. I want to feed them healthy food. Let them have eggs, cheese, sausage, fruit and yogurt - something a lot more substantial, and lot bigger portions."

The society is seeking $10,000 from the Adopt-A-School program to feed children in three elementary schools.

Part of the money would be spent on building garden boxes in the schools so children could grow their own fruit and vegetables.

"That's a really neat project. It would be great to grow our own food," said Anjos.


The Vancouver Sun’s seventh annual Adopt-A-School campaign is under way, and we are again asking readers to consider the plight of children who come to school unfed, improperly dressed and suffering the psychological effects of living in poverty.

We are not talking about a few children.  We are talking about thousands.

They are found in every school district in this province, no exceptions.

Last year the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which administers Adopt-A-School (AAS), distributed $604,000 in emergency funds to 86 schools across the province to help alleviate the most two most common forms of suffering — hunger and lack of proper clothing.

And while much of the money was spent in this way, there were also grants to help teachers heal some of the psychological damage to children whose lives are so blighted by poverty that they are arriving in school at their wit’s end.

Money was spent on supplying and equipping sensory rooms where children can decompress and be soothed into a state where they can function and learn and on other therapeutic programs that teachers tell us they need.

“Since AAS began in 2011 we have sent almost $4 million to teachers and principals struggling to deal with the effects of poverty, in almost all cases, without resources,” said Harold Munro, editor of the Vancouver Sun and The Province and chair of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board.

When a parent shows up at a school in tears with no food in the home and no money to buy any what are they supposed to do?

It happens regularly in schools all across the province.

“For teachers and principals it must be heartbreaking and this newspaper does not think it right that this burden should be borne by them alone,” Munro said.

“We are all in this together, these are our children and it is immoral to ignore the wants of the poor.”

AAS has:

* Provided money for emergency food vouchers.

*  Supported programs that distribute food in order to get impoverished families through the weekend.

* Bought beds to get children off the floor, or to replace those infested with bedbugs.

* Bought lice kits.

* Provided money to a special unit that deals with the most vulnerable students in danger of being sexually exploited or tempted to join gangs for no other reason than not having enough money to buy a meal or a decent winter coat.

It has got to the point that we are seeing not only concern from adults but from students.

The last campaign showed that children in the Gulf Islands were bringing extra food to feed hungry friends who had none. In Langley three teenagers set up their own program to feed needy families over weekends.

This campaign tell the story of how high school students in a Vancouver school have been moved to organize their own breakfast program after discovering  that a quarter of the school’s students were without food at home at least once during a month.

So the problem is obvious to school districts, principal, teachers and now other students.

The Vancouver Sun has never said a critical word about any political party in relation to the AAS campaign, except to ask the government of the day to do something.

We are repeating that request to this new government.

In the meantime we are again asking our readers to support our campaign. Your generosity has carried us this far.

You have fed thousands of children, helped hundreds of families.

“We can’t do it without you,” Munro said.


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