David Sidoo is wealthy — Google will supply all details — a success story well chronicled by the business press, which love to put six or more figures behind names.
And yet on Monday when the private investment banker and former pro football player stood in the midst of some of Vancouver’s poorest children arriving hungry at the Strathcona Community Centre, it was a circle being closed.
“I remember being hungry as a kid, having no breakfast sometimes. I know what this feels like,” said Sidoo as the children dined on hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cereal. It was more than just a curious admission of something in his past.
It was a quiet declaration of solidarity with these Downtown Eastside children for whom hunger is ever present. Sidoo and his wife, Manjy, were in the small and cramped canteen on East Pender Street where as many as 200 children a day come for breakfast – many hungry enough to need more than one helping.
David and Manjy Sidoo
The couple was there to donate $20,000 toward breakfast programs that feed inner-city children attending Strathcona and Queen Alexandra elementary schools in east Vancouver. Finding enough money from community donors to keep breakfast programs operating in Vancouver’s inner-city schools is proving difficult, according to the school board, and without support some could be in danger of closing. The Sidoo donations have been matched by The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund as part of this newspaper’s Adopt-a-School campaign, which has raised about $700,000 for inner-city schools.
The short ceremony to mark the occasion involved school trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, and Vancouver park board chairwoman Constance Barnes. There were giant-sized cheques and speeches – ignored by the kids as they ate – the paraphernalia and sound bites necessary for such functions, but it was after the formalities that Sidoo spoke of his past.
One of five children, he grew up in the 1970s in New Westminster, he said. His dad was a sawmill worker during an era when strikes and lock-outs were normal and it didn’t take long for the out-of-work suffering to trickle down to the children of the union workers.
“I don’t think he earned more than $11,000 a year his whole life. But he did his best for us,” said Sidoo. He was in his third year at the University of B.C., a gifted athlete and a member of the football team, when his father died.
“I had to quit university and get a job to look after the family. The coach didn’t want me to do that but I had to,” he said.
He took two low-paying jobs but his coach wrangled him a scholarship and got him back in school. Sidoo graduated from UBC in 1982 and was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders – the first Indo-Canadian to play professional football in the Canadian Football League. He gave his $5,000 signing bonus to his mother to cover the mortgage.
Three years ago he and Manjy created the Sidoo Family Foundation and have supported a school break-fast program in New Westminster, among other causes. Late last year, Manjy read a story in The Sun’s Adopt-a-School series about Queen Alexandra and its needs.
“The story just spoke to me. The programs there are so important to maintain and I said to David ‘this is a school I want to help as well as Strathcona,’” she said. “It feels very natural for us to be involved.”
Her husband said it was likely a shock to many people to discover there were hundreds of Lower Mainland children coming to school hungry every day.
“We all need to know this. We have to keep it in our conscience and I want to thank The Vancouver Sun for putting out the APB,” he said.
Queen Alexandra’s breakfast pro-gram has been sustained for the past 18 years by the Vancouver and District Labour Council, while the majority of Strathcona’s breakfast program has been supported for years by CIBC Wood Gundy. The Steve Nash Foundation has also granted money to refurbish the com-munity centre’s kitchen.
But the full weight of feeding large numbers of needy families in the Strathcona area has fallen on the Vancouver park board, which has 18 separate programs for preparing or distributing food from the community centre. Park board chairwoman Barnes said the program costs $65,000 a year.
“Hunger is a very real risk for some children here as their access to food fluctuates,” she said.
But the need is much greater than it was 14 years ago when the breakfast program began. “The number of children being fed has almost tripled since then. About 200 children – and family members if needed – get healthy food every morning.
“During the recent teachers’ strike the program served 300 kids a day,” Barnes said.
But among park board members there’s disagreement about whether the board should be involved in such programs.
“It’s not seen as a core program, but I beg to differ,” she said. “We need to work collaboratively with the city, with the province and look at the needs of these children.”
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