March 2, 2013

Generous donations support kids in need #vansunkids

By Gerry Bellett

On Tuesday morning, the doors of Captain James Cook Elementary will be opened early by principal Dan Knibbs who will be there to serve the school’s first breakfast — an inaugural event and the culmination of Knibbs’ desire to at least do this much to alleviate hunger in his school.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I came to the school in September,” said Knibbs who is expecting the new program to feed at least 40 children a day.

This breakfast program — fully funded from donations to The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund as a result of our Adopt-A-School campaign — is one example of how readers’ generosity is helping feed hundreds of children who come to school hungry each morning.

This year’s campaign will result in about half a million dollars being available for feeding and clothing impoverished children.

It will also be used for emergency food vouchers for families unable to stretch social assistance benefits from one end of the month to the other, or for the hundred-and-one needs that poverty presents to principals and teachers each month; often in the guise of a desperate mother unable to buy food, or pay for transportation, or medicine, or laundry, or the means to kill lice or bedbugs.

In the case of Captain Cook, those famished children will be fed thanks to a $60,000 donation from Carole Taylor and her husband Art Phillips — which will keep the program in food for at least five years — and a donation of almost $9,000 from the Vancouver Rotary Club.

Captain Cook Elementary grade 2 students Juliana and Teagan check out the new kitchen, February 28th, with Principal Dan Knibbs [L] and Evan Clow of the Rotary Club of Vancouver.

The Rotary’s donation (the club had already donated $7,000 for a breakfast and books program) was used to refurbish a kitchen in the school and to buy and install a dishwasher and provide all the equipment needed to prepare and serve breakfast.

“We just couldn’t have done this without the help we’ve received from Carole and her husband and Rotary. It’s humbling and we are in their debt,” said Knibbs.

Funds raised by AAS this year will fund field trips for children whose parents haven’t the money to send them, buy literacy kits for children struggling to read or learn English, buy sensory room equipment for children who are anxious and need to be calmed down, will move a playground from one school to another, even reinstate a vital pre-kindergarten program to help South Asian children get ready to enter school.

David Sidoo (centre) and his family Manjy (r) and son Jordan (l) have responded to our Adopt a School story that the school needs $7,800 to erect a new playground at Lord Selkirk elementary school. And they family has donated another $27,000 to help keep breakfast programs running in Vancouver schools.

The campaign has received support from large corporations and private foundations, employee groups, law firms, real estate companies, labour organizations, other schools and many individuals.

Direct donations of computer equipment from Best Buy and Future Shop have put iPads and computers in the hands of needy or special needs children at two schools while the Vancouver Aquarium and Grouse Mountain have given free access to a number of children from inner city schools whose chances of ever visiting such blue-chip attractions were slim.

Westbild Holdings responded to Adopt-A-School by setting up a $50,000 scholarship to help students graduating from Coquitlam’s alternative education school, CABE, pay for career training or post-secondary education.

Telus, which has supported the appeal from the beginning, donated $40,000 this year to support after-school programs and literacy for Strathcona elementary students.

Entrepreneur Divyesh Gadhia and Fluor Canada have come to the aid of Burnaby’s Twelfth Avenue Elementary to sustain a breakfast program there.

Similarly, AAS has been supported by donations from Peter Young who put up $35,000 for various AAS programs, the Trevor Linden Foundation, the Bentall Foundation, a cycling group led by Sharon Kreutzer, Vision Communications, ZLC Foundation, Gail Brown. Dana Merritt and friends, Dr. Joan Sangster — to name a few.

Donations have ranged from princely sums to a $1 cheque signed in an elderly and weak hand mailed from a reader in a care home for whom the money was likely a significant portion of their disposable income.

Vancouver Sun publisher Gordon Fisher offered his profound thanks to all those who have supported this year’s campaign.

“We realize there is no shortage of good causes that need help so we are particularly grateful for all those corporate and individual donors who have recognized the importance of ensuring that children should not be left hungry or ill-clothed at school or be denied access to such things as field trips or technology simply because of poverty,” said Fisher. “We do not see helping these children an act of charity but rather one of social justice. Surely every child should have a right not to be in school hungry, or without proper clothing for the weather.

“It is our hope that some day there will be no need for an Adopt-A-School campaign but until then we will continue to seek your support,” said Fisher.

The campaign resulted in many tens of thousands of dollars flowing directly to schools or other organizations. In one incident a man arrived in Vancouver’s Britannia Elementary and promptly signed a cheque for $7,500 the day after reading the school was running out of the means to help impoverished families with used clothing and emergency food.

Another reader is donating $2,000 to Britannia to pay for art therapy classes for traumatized children — children disturbed by some event relating to poverty.

“People are constantly coming in, dropping off clothes and shoes and giving us cheques for $20 or $30, and we tell them it’s going into our Adopt-A-School fund for emergency food and snacks and they’re happy to hear that,” said principal Ian Cannon. Donations from Sun readers have started two breakfast programs from scratch, resuscitated a program which would have run out of money any time now, supported programs in eight Surrey schools plus others in Vancouver, and prevented five breakfast programs from being closed due to shortfall in donations of $54,000.

The programs at Carleton, Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Nightingale and Norquay were saved thanks to a $27,000 donation from the Sidoo Family Foundation with matching funds from Adopt-A-School made to the Vancouver school district.

Those are some of the broad strokes that paint the picture of breakfast programs. But it’s the finer strokes that are the most revealing.

These are found in conversations with teachers who will tell of kids so destabilized by hunger they hoard any food they see lying around or the small child who could have tumbled out of a page from Oliver Twist and came back five times one morning for more scrambled eggs.

That’s the true picture of need. And the rationale for Adopt-A-School.

gbellett@vancouversun.com

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