January 13, 2013

Adopt-a-School: Vancouver power couple pitches in to help school #vansunkids

By Gerry Bellett

Captain James Cook Elementary principal Dan Knibbs was stunned when he heard that his longed-for program to serve breakfast to hungry children will receive $60,000 from Carole Taylor and her husband Art Phillips.

“It’s fantastic. It’s such a huge commitment on their part. I just can’t say what it will mean to our school,” said Knibbs who took over the school in September.

Taylor is the chancellor of Simon Fraser University, a broadcaster, former Vancouver city councillor and former MLA (she was B.C. finance minister from 2005 to 2008). Phillips is a former mayor of Vancouver, a former MP, and founder of investment company Phillips, Hager & North.

Theirs is the largest single donation received by The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund for the newspaper’s Adopt-a-School campaign.

She had intended to make the donation anonymously but was talked into going public by the Sun’s associate editor, Fazil Mihlar.

“It’s such an enormous act of generosity that I asked her to let us use her name,” Mihlar said. “It took her a few days to decide. But we feel that it will encourage others to step forward and help our campaign, which is aimed at providing food for children coming to school hungry as well as clothes and shoes and taking care of their other needs.”

Taylor went to Cook Elementary on Friday to meet Knibbs and discuss setting up the breakfast program, which is expected to feed 40 or more children who come to school hungry.

Former journalist, politician and current chancellor of Simon Fraser University Carole Taylor talks to Grade 3 students at Captain Cook elementary school in Vancouver. (Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)

The school is on 54th Avenue near Champlain Heights, in an area of million-dollar townhomes. But a proportion of the 343 students live in poverty in subsidized housing or in basement suites, and hunger at school is ever-present.

Knibbs and the teachers have emergency stashes of food in classrooms — paid for out of their own pockets — so that they can feed children showing obvious signs of hunger.

When he took over, Knibbs’ first worry was how he could feed these children in a school that doesn’t have a proper kitchen, let alone the money to buy food.

Taylor was informed of the school’s plight and pledged $60,000, a sum that Knibbs said will keep a breakfast program running for at least five years.

The school has submitted a request to Adopt-a-School for money to rebuild the kitchen and stock it with utensils and equipment, including a dishwasher. The school is also seeking money to buy books for the breakfast program.

“I want books available so there will be something interesting for them to do. It won’t be a formal curriculum thing. Some of them come from homes were things are chaotic. The idea is to ease them into school as gently as possible,” said Knibbs.

Apart from feeding children, Knibbs believes the prospect of a good breakfast will encourage kids who are chronically absent to come to school.

“We do have a problem with kids being absent and late. Studies show this kind of a program will help with that,” he said.

Taylor said her first exposure to breakfast programs was in the 1980s when she was on Vancouver City council.

“Wood Gundy decided to sponsor a breakfast program either at Britannia or Strathcona and I thought ‘what a wonderful idea that is’ because teachers have so much to deal with trying to get everyone to learn and go forward. But if you’ve got hungry children they can’t learn, they can’t focus,” Taylor said.

(CIBC Wood Gundy’s Bentall Centre office has carried much of the weight of the privately funded breakfast programs in Vancouver’s inner city schools since that time and continues to do so.)

“I really loved what those guys were doing and spent some time with them. And they’d talk about how once in a while they’d go out to the schools and check how things were working out and then they became quite attached to the kids and started shooting hoops with them and being involved in the school program.

“So this has been in my head a long time and because The Vancouver Sun has put itself in the position of being the link that matches up people who would like to do something meaningful with a school in need, well, it’s just perfect for Art and myself,” she said.


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