November 9, 2012
Child poverty is not going away, Adopt-a-School launching for a second year
By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun
Last year’s Adopt-a-School campaign exceeded all expectations and raised close to $800,000 in cash donations and matching funds and a substantial amount of goods and services for inner-city schools struggling against a rising tide of classroom poverty.
Such generosity from our readers brought relief to hundreds of children in 37 schools — providing breakfasts for those coming to school hungry, emergency food vouchers for poor families, field trips and camping trips these students wouldn’t otherwise enjoy, computers and other equipment for those with learning problems — generally attempting to make life better for impoverished children.
Apart from the money and goods, the campaign raised public awareness about the plight of these children and the efforts by dedicated principals and teachers to alleviate their suffering.
Victor Hugo, France’s great humanitarian, summed up the reason for writing his masterpiece, Les Miserables, in one paragraph of which the following is a fragment:
“So long as there shall exist by reason of law or custom a social condemnation which in the face of civilization creates hells on earth, so long as the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved — so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
We might be 200 years removed from the events of Les Miserables but anyone with a knowledge of the social conditions existing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or in parts of Surrey would recognize that the “three problems of the age” are with us still.
And it’s not getting better.
Earlier this summer Josee Desjardins, western Canadian representative of the Breakfast Club of Canada, stunned members of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School team when she revealed that in the past 12 months British Columbia accounted for 75 per cent of all new requests for the organization’s assistance.
Desjardins, whose national organization is based in Quebec, had no explanation why B.C. — with only 10 per cent of Canada’s population — would be outstripping the rest of the country combined in requests to feed hungry children. “We just don’t know. But the rest of the Canada only accounted for 25 per cent of the requests, which we found very strange,” said Desjardins.
The Breakfast Club of Canada only helps schools that have a dire and demonstrated need for breakfast programs for hungry children.
In 2011, the organization was active in 78 schools or First Nations reserves in B.C., yet this year it was faced with 60 new applications.
“We don’t think it’s a question of people just finding out about us. If that were the case, we would be getting applications from all over the country, but we didn’t,” said Desjardins.
The answer must lie in the increasing number of children living in poverty in B.C. and the knock-on effect of those children coming to school hungry.
Statistics Canada pegs the number of poor children in B.C. at about 137,000 (2009 figures).
In 2009, this province had the worst (after tax) child poverty rate in Canada — the eighth straight year we had that dubious distinction. The child poverty rate in B.C. rose to 16.4 per cent in 2009 from 14.5 per cent in 2008.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that our inner city schools are feeling the effects of this each morning and need help to alleviate hunger and other social miseries.
Providing breakfasts for hungry schoolchildren has been going on since the mid-90s, mostly under the public’s radar as schools didn’t want to stigmatize poor families by drawing attention to it.
The money paying for breakfast programs in Vancouver schools comes entirely from private donors, not the school board or the province. Over the years, companies, labour unions and service clubs have stepped up after realizing the depths of poverty facing many families and its harrowing results. There are some children arriving at school whose last meal was the school lunch they received the day before.
As far back as 1974, an attempt was made to have the school district recognize that some schools on the east side of Vancouver were experiencing abnormal social problems.
In his history of Vancouver’s inner city schools, Every Kid Counts, former principal and Vancouver school board trustee Noel Herron observed that these schools were not “like mainstream schools with some social and behavioural problems tacked on” and needed to be looked at in a different light.
However, it took until 1988 for the district to designate four schools as ‘inner city’ followed a year later by three others.
Each school received special grants to hire project teachers, conduct special learning programs, have ESL programs, and an allotment of money to be used at a principal’s discretion for emergencies — usually to buy food vouchers or clothing and shoes for students.
But funding shortfalls have caused much of those funds to dry up.
There might come a day when government decides to relieve these special problems facing inner city schools. Until then, the ordinary you and me have to do something.
This year, The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund will match the first $100,000 in readers’ donations.
We are also appealing to those who might want to consider making a gift of securities to the Adopt-a-School campaign.
The Vancouver Foundation has agreed to handle such transactions on our behalf and funds will be directed to the school or program chosen by the donor.
The response to our first campaign overwhelmed us.
There are many impoverished children out there who will be longing for the same again.