James Ardiel: Emergency Fund
$550 raised
22% of $2.5k goal
6 contributors
46 Weeks running

The coats and school bags pile up in the hallway discarded in a heap by children arriving at school an hour before classes start, hungry and needing to be fed.

Inside the multipurpose room — now operating as a cafeteria — the porridge is cooked, and the milk, fruit, yogurt and whatever else on today’s menu is waiting for them.

This is business as usual at James Ardiel Elementary school at 137th and 112th Ave and some variations of the scene can be found in dozens of other inner city Surrey schools every day.

Since 2011 The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) program has been paying to feed these children many of whom are living in poverty — making any food they get at school a necessity for parents who could be struggling to pay rent and feed them.

Surrey schools are asking AAS for almost $300,000 this year to feed and clothe impoverished children and help families trapped by poverty.

Surrey is home to many new Canadian families and refugees and has also seen a migration of impoverished families moving from Vancouver in an effort to find cheaper rent so they would have more money for food.

James Ardiel principal James Pearce is there to greet his students from the six-year olds just entering the school system to the 12-year-olds who will graduate to high school in June.

On average 30 children a day are fed.

“It’s an inner-city school but it’s a very welcoming place not just the students but the parents and staff. The kids are always giving you hugs and, hey, I’m not the huggiest guy in the world,” says Pearce with charming self disparagement.

“This is a changing community We have a very well established middle class here but also have families in lower socio-economic situations and we have refugees.”

“We do have kids that if they didn’t get breakfast we don’t know what they’d eat,” he says.

Transiency is another telltale of poverty with families suddenly up and moving and he sees a great deal of that.

“I just had a call from one family taking their children out later this week and we lost a number over the summer,” he says.

Sometimes families can’t pay the rent and have been evicted or they have to move to find cheaper accommodation.

And the stresses of poverty often manifests in behavioural problems displayed by some students.

“When you consider the refugee children, we have no idea what they have seen or been through so we have to work hard with them.

“I’ll tell you a story. There is a lot of pride in our parents. There’s a Syrian boy who had behaviour issues and we had to call the parents. But then he was really trying and he finally got through two weeks without problems.

“So I wanted to reward him and said I’d buy him lunch, anything he wanted — and he surprised me by asking for spaghetti instead of pizza — but his parents said ‘no’ they didn’t want any special treatment for him.”

The school is also asking AAS for $2,500 in funds to help children in times of emergencies or with clothes or footwear.

The importance of an emergency fund can be demonstrated by two examples.

In the first there was a refugee child coming to school in a pair of shoes that didn’t fit him.

“He was falling out of them they were so big. We ended up using the emergency fund to get him a new pair of boots.

“He was so delighted you’d think they were custom made Fluevog’s instead of $15.99 boots from Walmart. Then his siblings came in and we got them shoes as well.”

The second was not so happy.

“We had a single mom and unfortunately her child stole all the money she had and spent it. She was left without any money for food. But at the time we didn’t have any grocery gift cards to give her.”

 

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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