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Battling hunger in Coquitlam school district
More than 1,000 school kids may be going hungry in School District 43 and breakfast and school lunch programs may not be enough to support some of the neediest students.
According to recent food bank statistics provided by Share Family and Community Services, 1,311 children are getting food from the food bank, and over 1,000 of them are school-aged between the ages of five and 19 years.
And some these children's families are struggling, the statistics show, with three households headed by teen moms, 49 with moms who are expecting and 66 households with babies in their first year.
The challenges facing these family are severe says Share's executive director Martin Wyant, who said he expects more families to join the food bank line this month as school resumes.
"What we see in the summer months is a bit of a drop-off," Wyant said. "When school comes back, parents are strapped [for money] and it increases."
SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS
School District 43 is also grappling with the issue of hungry kids. In 26 elementary schools, 250 children will be getting fully or partially subsidized school lunches prepared in a kitchen at Central elementary school, and breakfast programs are expected to get under way at several schools, including Minnekhada, Maillard and Pitt River middle, plus Terry Fox secondary.
And where there are no food programs, schools will buy snacks and hand them out, according to assistant superintendent Julie Pearce, or needy high school students will get a break on cafeteria meals. At CABE (Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education), school lunches are also free.
"We will not let those kids go hungry," Pearce said.
In addition to providing school lunch pogroms, select schools with high numbers of vulnerable kids will offer literacy support, counselling and after-school programs with $1.4 million in Community Link funding. But the district has long contended that isn't enough money as the number of vulnerable kids has grown 40% in the last four years.
Wyant wants this to be the year his organization, along with Tri-City businesses, schools and community groups, figure out what to do about child poverty.
POVERTY NEEDS STUDY
"One of the things I've learned is it's not an area that gets a great deal of study," Wyant said. "Early childhood development gets money — I'm a big supporter of that — but there's not a lot of energy and research around studying policies [regarding poverty]. If it's something we want to effect change, we need to understand it."
He says he teachers and students talk about poverty in the classroom to address some of the stereotypes, and that kids will be compassionate if they see someone alone or in need.
As to the wider issue of child poverty, that's a conversation he would like to see at the community level so there's something more for families than a handout.
"That's what keeps me up nights," he said. "It's just that image. It's just degrading, [people] standing in line, when you see children there with their family to get a bag of what ever food we've managed to cobble together… There's got to be a better way."