November 6, 2012

Inner-city school food deliveries switch to centres for summer

When Jim Duggan dived head first into helping poor inner-city families receive fresh fruit and vegetables, he didn’t realize how fathomless is the pool of want.

Inspired to help by The Sun’s Adopt-a-School stories describing the needs of poverty-stricken children and families, Duggan pledged to spend $500 a month on fruit and vegetables and distribute them to the poor.

Since March he has provided almost 7,000 pounds of produce – 3½ tonnes – to help supplement the emergency food supplies that a number of inner-city schools and community centres distribute monthly to desperate families.

He buys the produce whole-sale from his friend Jason Yang who owns Neighbour’s Choice Farm Market in West Vancouver. Yang also delivers the food across the Downtown Eastside.

“Seven thousand pounds? The need is 10 times, 100 times that,” said Duggan. “I wish I could do more.”

Most reasonable people would think that a commitment of $6,000 a year from an ordinary wage earner – Duggan’s not independently wealthy, he’s a manager in a manufacturing plant – was doing quite enough.

In fact he’s already done more than he planned. “I’ve blown the budget. I think it’s up to $700 a month now, but there’s so much need,” he said.

Initially he committed to helping out Thunderbird, Mac-Donald and Strathcona elementary schools and the Ray-Cam Community Centre.

But then he found there was need in St. James Anglican Church on Cordova, which runs a music program for children in the Downtown Eastside, and First United Church that attempts to deal with scores of hungry people each day, and the Quest Food exchange on Dundas, which supplies food at below market cost to the poor.

Then there were Musqueam First Nation protesters at a blockade in Marpole, near Duggan’s home, trying to prevent development of a historic mid-den – “there were dozens of people down there around the clock so I delivered 120 pounds of bananas,” he said.

Today, the last of his deliveries will be made to schools.

“With schools being closed this month we’ll be delivering to Ran-Cam Community Centre and Strathcona Community Centre through the summer so families can go there until September when we’ll start up again in schools,” he said.

Duggan is concerned families relying on the schools for food will go hungry or not have the benefit of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets.

“I’m worried because these kids get breakfast and lunch at school but not during the sum-mer. Those meals likely account for two-thirds of the calories

they receive and are nutritious. What’s going to replace them? Probably prepared food and fast food which isn’t good,” he said.

On Wednesday Duggan was among a handful of volunteers who attended a short ceremony at Strathcona elementary as principal Margaret Jorgensen and staff thanked the more than 300 people who had helped the inner-city school this past year. Toward the end of her speech Jorgensen found her-self in tears as she recounted what those volunteers have done for a school that operates in the heart of the Downtown Eastside.

Jorgensen is a tough advocate for her students and not to be trifled with but the moment of emotion added more eloquence to the occasion than the formal speech she was holding.

Asked earlier about the importance of Duggan’s deliveries, Jorgensen said it has made a great difference this year. “It provides food security for our children, their parents and grandparents. He’s brought in hundreds of pounds of produce – today they came with fresh strawberries – and it goes to families who really need it,” she said.

Not content with just the monthly food run, Duggan has donated this year’s income tax refund to help start a food co-op in Grandview elementary.

Kristin Rudichuk, a member of the school district’s inner-city team, said the co-op – it’s called the Buyers Club – operates once a month.

Set up under the guidance of Dr. Barbara Fitzgerald, a pedi-atrician and University of B.C. assistant dean of medicine, it is run by Rudichuk with the help of two UBC medical students.

For $10, parents receive two plastic bags full of fruit and vegetables which is less than half what they would pay in a regular store. “About 15 families pay but there are another 10 who can’t. Jim’s money is used to help those families who can’t pay,” said Rudichuk.

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