January 17, 2013
Sun readers put Surrey family back on its feet after fire #vansunkids
By Gerry Bellett
On Tuesday, the following email arrived at The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School website from Susan McCuaig, principal of Betty Huff elementary, a school located in Surrey’s troubled north end.
“ … We have many vulnerable families in our community and one endured a fire in their apartment Monday and they have no insurance. We asked if there was anything they needed and how we could help. The single mom told us her children — son in kindergarten and daughter age four — lost all their toys in the fire and if possible could we help getting a few trucks/cars and maybe a doll or two.
“She could also use a microwave oven, an iron and toaster oven, TV and DVD player. Is that something your organization would be able to help us with?”
Attached was also a request for $1,400 to be used to buy coats, boots and runners for children coming to school without adequate winter clothing.
“It’s cold and we’re constantly seeing kids who need these things,” said McCuaig.
This inner city school, on 96th Ave. and 132nd St., is not far from where a double gangland killing occurred Sunday. The murders happened in the parkade of an apartment complex at 9450 128th St., where some of the school’s students live.
On Tuesday, the request for the family was passed on to Dr. Barbara Fitzgerald, president of the Vancouver-based Mom2Mom society, which was founded to help families in need — one mom helping another. The family had lost all their belongings and had been living in an emergency shelter since the fire.
She contacted psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe of Surrey’s Wishing Star Development Clinic, who wants to expand Mom2Mom into Surrey and who agreed to organize help for the family.
On Wednesday morning the family’s plight was also posted on the Adopt-a-School Facebook page by Sun columnist Daphne Bramham and before noon Wednesday, McCuaig said, the family’s needs had been met.
“The fire happened Monday, we asked for help Tuesday and it’s only Wednesday and already she’s been found a basement suite to live in and she’s got what she needs. People banded together to help. She’s got toys coming, a microwave — they got a bed delivered last night. It’s so amazing,” said McCuaig.
McCuaig thanked the public for helping and also the staff at the school, who pitched in with beds and bedding and other items.
“We’re a community school and it’s important the community knows we are here to help them,” said McCuaig.
Like many inner-city schools, staff at Betty Huff support all kinds of programs to help needy families ranging from the official — such as the hot lunch program, the semi-official — installing a washer and dryer at the school for families unable to afford to pay for laundry, and the unofficial — collecting money among themselves to buy food for families in need.
“We have a great school and a caring staff,” said McCuaig. “And our families are wonderful.”
The school offers a multitude of after-school programs. It has its own theatre company and gives free swimming and tennis lessons.
It runs an emergency breakfast program to feed up to 30 children a day and is part of the Surrey school district’s Attendance Matters program, which has applied for an Adopt-a-School grant.
Food is a constant concern, said McCuaig, as there are children who would be going home to a house without food if not for the staff’s intervention.
“We have kids we give food to at the end of the day because we know they don’t have any at home. We have families who feel comfortable enough to tell us they have no money for food,” said McCuaig.
“We just had a family in so I put it out to staff and we got together and raised $120 and we bought food and delivered it to the home,” she said.
It was shortly after she arrived as principal in January, 2011, that McCuaig had the washer and dryer installed.
“It was one of the first things I did. Sometimes we have to take clothes off kids in the morning and dress them in clothes we have here. Then we wash them so we could send them home in clean clothes,” she said.
“Now we have families coming in with bags of clothes to wash. It’s too expensive for them to pay for laundry so we offer laundry soap and things they need,” she said.
The educator in her couldn’t resist seeing doing the laundry as a “real life-skills program” for the those students who operate the washer and dryer.
With the family who suffered loss in the fire being helped, McCuaig’s next concern was to find the money to buy winter clothes and footwear.
“It’s cold now and we’ve got about 60 kids who need help and we are asking for $1,400 from Adopt-a-School,” she said.
She estimated the money would buy 20 coats, ten pairs of boots and 30 pairs of runners.
“I’m guessing that will do it. I don’t mind going out and buying stuff. We’ve got lots of kids coming to school wearing their older brother’s or sister’s running shoes which are either too big or don’t have soles or they don’t have boots.
“If we can find things on sale we can probably get what we need. I didn’t want to ask for too much. Even if we only got $300 it would help.”
Rose Isla, the administrator of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, increased the amount from $1,400 to $2,000 and issued a cheque Wednesday.
“We want to ensure the school has enough to buy what they need,” said Isla.
“And we have responded quickly because the children need winter coats and boots as soon as possible, given how cold it is.”