Sir Charles Tupper Secondary: Homework Club Food Program
$4,680 raised
130% of $3.6k goal
19 contributors
40 Weeks running

When he sees how they eat — with that definable difference between healthy teenage appetite and stark hunger — it occurs to Steve Sorrenti that some of the kids in Sir Charles Tupper”s homework club might not have eaten in the previous 24 hours.

“It could be their only decent meal of the day. Who knows what they are getting at home?” says Sorrenti.

But the way the food gets devoured, his speculation is less a question than a conviction that the answer’s likely “not much, if anything.”

“When you look at the way some of these kids are eating you go ‘wow” why are they eating so much?”

Everybody in this little existential drama has a problem.

The kids’ problem is hunger.

Sorrenti’s is that he doesn’t have enough food to feed them.

And as for what he can give them being “decent” that’s really just an expression.

For what food he distributes — half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few pieces of fruit and vegetables — is far from being decent or adequate.

“We can’t even afford the good peanut butter, just the sugary crap,” says Sorrenti, a youth worker at the Vancouver secondary school on East 24th Ave.

“These are teenagers and they’d like a full sandwich but there’s times I can’t do that, I have to limit them to just a half. And I’d like to give them a full apple, too, instead of small slices.”

It’s the reason behind his application to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $3,600 so he can provide nutritious and healthy food to the 150 students a week who attend the homework club on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“If we had the money I’d like to offer them fresh fruit and vegetables — a whole apple each. We need to give them something better than peanut butter and jelly. We want to give them meat and cheese, a proper sandwich.

“We’d like to get them humus, whole grain crackers and bread and things like halal meat because some of these kids have special dietary needs.”

Over the years the food for the homework club has come from a grant from the Parents Advisory Counsel but this is proving inadequate.

“We used to have about 90 kids a week but now we’re getting 150 and our food budget’s the same.”

Even just serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he’ll be out of money by the end of November.

And if that happens one of the homework club’s main attractions to students who need it will disappear.

“We know food is an incentive for a lot of students and we know there are a lot of students whose nutritional needs are not being met,” he said.

“We have new Canadian families and refugees who are vulnerable and then there’s the gentrification of the area which makes it harder and harder for families to live here.

“We see large families living in small accommodation and their food budgets are tight and not all families are making good food choices especially as fruit and vegetables are expensive,” he said.

“I guess a third of our students would fall into the category of living in difficult situations.”

Sorrenti said the homework club’s importance to the students and community is profound.

“For some kids, going home after school isn’t that appealing because they are living in cramped basement suites or they are having trouble at home.

“But here we can support them. They meet with caring adults who can suggest services to help that they might not know about.

“We have  UBC  and SFU tutors and peer tutors to help them. We are not teachers so it’s a casual environment and less intimidating for some of them,” he said.

It’s popularity is obvious given that 15 per cent of the school’s 1,000 students stay behind each week for an extra three hours of work.

“It’s amazing we have students staying here until 6 p.m. and we have to ask them to leave. There’s not many programs that draw these kinds of numbers,” he said.

“It’s definitely making huge changes especially in vulnerable students who didn’t have much confidence.  Every year we hear stories of students’ lives being turned around and them getting employment or entering post secondary because we’ve developed those relationships since Grade 8.”

Within the past few months this newspaper has carried stories concerning poverty that should cause alarm in the minds of most right thinking people.

One disclosed that hundreds of homeless children can be found in the Greater Vancouver area -- 681 according to a survey.

Another spoke of the continuing delay by a B.C. government to formulate a poverty reduction plan in a province that has the highest rates of child poverty in the country.

Yet another spoke of the insidious effect poverty was having on the mental health of children.

So what is being done?

B.C. is the only province without a poverty reduction plan despite the fact that 557,000 residents -- including a fifth of our children -- are living in conditions so abject as to endanger them physically, mentally and morally.

The NDP government came to power promising to improve the lives of the poor but we won’t know until next year what their plan entails although its aim, apparently, is a drastic reduction of poverty levels by 2024.

Now that must seem a long way off when today you don’t have enough money to eat and pay the rent or can’t buy your child a pair of shoes or a winter coat.

So until this brave new world arrives when, hopefully, thousands of children aren’t coming to school hungry, or traumatized by the dehumanizing stresses of living in destitution this newspaper will continue its efforts to help them through our Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign.

It will also continue to demand that the government implement a program to ensure children who need feeding at school get fed.

AAS was launched in 2011 and this will be our eighth appeal.

“To date  $3.8 million has been distributed to 140 schools throughout the province,” said Harold Munro, editor of the Vancouver Sun-Province newspapers and chair of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board which oversees Adopt-A-School.

“Last year almost $600,000 was sent to schools to help alleviate the effects poverty was having on students -- buying food, clothing, and other necessities. The money was distributed to teachers who have to deal with the stress of seeing children in pitiful states without any other means of help,” he said.

“Without the support of our readers who have stood with us, nothing could have been done, only more of the helpless hand wringing the poor are all too familiar with.”

This fall the Sun has received requests from close to 80 schools totalling more than $800,000 -- most asking for help to feed children.

In September The New York Times carried a front page story about children in a wealthy, first world country arriving at school unfed, hungry and chronically in need of help. That a prestigious North American newspaper found such a story worth the telling is significant.

The story -- with a few geographical alterations -- could well have fitted into the pages of this newspaper’s AAS coverage anytime in the last seven years.

Their reporter went to Morecambe -- a small seaside town in the northwest of England.

Teachers there said that until recently they had never seen children arriving in such a state.  What shocked them most was that many were children whose parents had jobs who in the past could be expected to feed them.

The conditions the NYT found in Morecambe can be found here.

However, there are some differences between Morecambe and Vancouver.

Firstly, we have had this state of affairs far longer than four or five years and the level of privation in our children is much worse.

Unlike humble Morecambe, the working poor here have the added burden of living in one of the world’s most heated real estate markets which has driven rents to a point where -- for the poor -- it becomes a toss up between paying rent or eating.

Teachers have consistently pointed to that dilemma as one of the main evils suffered by families trying to exist on income assistance or minimum wage jobs.

It results in families constantly going hungry at weekends, some with no food or, as we discovered in one case, with only an onion to share between them.

It is the reason The Vancouver Sun is again asking readers for their continued support, said Munro.

“There are scores of requests from schools desperate to give these children and families the dignity of being fed, clothed and cherished,” said Munro.

“This is not an appeal for charity as it is for justice. These children are voiceless, they suffer the indignity of hunger and privation in silence  and their pain is only apparent to their teachers.

“We can’t leave it like that,’ said Munro.

“In the next few months we will be sharing their stories. Please, if you are in a position to help, join with us. One hundred percent of your donation will go to these children.”

An idea of what some teachers here are dealing with is apparent from an email recently received from an inner-city school teacher ostensibly describing how donations of clothing -- thanks to AAS -- were coming into her school.

But it finished with a telling account of her day:

“... then I hear of six people sleeping today in a living room … or a 14-year-old pregnant … or a child seeing a parent using a needle … and (see) kids killing (bed) bugs in the palms of their hands while learning to read … and I’m so grateful to have this huge village helping our families. “I’m exhausted.”

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