Prince Charles Elementary: Emergency Fund
$750 raised
30% of $2.5k goal
7 contributors
34 Weeks running

 

Given the issues they face almost daily, it would be understandable if the staff at Prince Charles Elementary gave way to resignation.

This is a school that has to carry the full weight of the social problems that overwhelm some families in this North Surrey area.

There are homeless families, refugee families lost and confused in an alien culture, parents unable to feed their children throughout the month, hungry children, children arriving cold and wet without proper footwear, without coats.

The list is formidable.

But then so, too, is the pushback by the staff and community and the Surrey school district, which directs an array of special resources at this school of 315 children located at 100th Ave. and 124th St.

The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign also has a large part in this as the school needs to feed as many as 60 hungry children breakfast each morning, as well as needing money to help families in times of emergencies with food and clothing or transit fares.

(This school is one of 23 Surrey schools that are seeking a total of $100,000 from Adopt-A-School to feed over 900 impoverished children breakfast. It is also requesting $2,500 for emergency help.)

“We have a wonderful, very diverse, multicultural population, but within that there is need,” says principal Donna Lomax, who shows every sign of confidence in her school’s ability to deal with whatever problems arrive at the front door.

Just after school began in September, there was a mother, new to the school, who came to the office and was met by child youth care worker Amy Lauwers.

“She was in a desperate place,” says Lauwers. “She was in tears. There was no food at home. We didn’t know anything about this family, so this was a way to start a relationship, get her connected with the community, and in that moment see what we could do to help.

“Even though there are food banks, there are stipulations about what time you can go and how often each month, and this mom and dad had exhausted that option.”

Fortunately, the school still had some emergency funds it had received last year from Adopt-A-School, so Lauwers was able to give her gift cards for food and get jackets for her children.

“Without having access to those (Adopt-A-School) gift cards, I don’t know where we could have sent them,” she says.

Lomax said it was not unusual to see children arriving at school during torrential rain with no socks, wearing flip-flops or runners, and no coats.

One recent morning, a seven-year-old — a refugee child who earlier this year was living in central Africa — came in shivering because she had no long pants and the morning was cold.

“She had never seen seasons like this before, but fortunately we were able to supply long pants,” says Lomax.

The family had fled Burundi for Tanzania and arrived in Canada this past spring.

Her father, Issa Nshimirimana, 35, speaking through Swahili interpreter Dominique Okech, said he was grateful for all the help his family — five children and wife Geraldine — was receiving.

None of his children had been to a school before.

The family — unable to speak English, struggling to understand a different culture — is clearly helpless.

“Their rent is paid directly by the government,” says Okech, “but they don’t understand the value of the Canadian dollar yet, so we have to go shopping with them.”

But what money the father has isn’t sufficient to get the family through the month and they rely on the school to feed the children breakfast and lunch. They also receive weekend food from Backpack Buddies to supplement what they get from the food bank.

Their backpacks of school supplies came from Telus Community Connection volunteers and Staples.

“We give out about 30 of these. Some families can’t afford to buy school supplies and feed their children,” says Lomax.

Meanwhile, Lomax and Lauwers are concerned about the welfare of a homeless single mother with two children.

They were recently evicted and have been staying in emergency shelters.

“But you can only stay for 30 days or whatever,” said Lauwers. “They keep moving from shelter to shelter. Sometimes they spend a night in a motel.”

“She had a car, but she’s lost that too. The little guy comes here, but he’s always late. The mom wants him here because she knows the value of being able to get food, and we love and care about him.

“We know he gets breakfast and lunch (at school), but after this we don’t know what kind of food, if any, the mom has access to.”

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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