Adopt-A-School: East Van school sees dramatic jump in students seeking food, clothing

Teacher covering some expenses out of her own pocket.

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A year ago, as many as 40 students a day in need of food could be found visiting a small office in East Vancouver’s Killarney Secondary set aside for Bonnie Wendt, the school’s Indigenous education enhancement worker.

Now she is trying to cope with up to 70 students daily.

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These are students who can’t afford the $140 a month for lunch in the cafeteria.

Instead, they come for a free breakfast and lunch to a room decorated with Indigenous art, sporting two microwaves, a couple of toasters, a kettle, a sofa, some assorted chairs, two polygon shaped tables, and the irrepressible Mrs. Wendt. Not that any of them would call her anything other than Bonnie, who treats them like they were her own.

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“As you can see,” she said one recent morning as students began arriving for a free lunch, “not all of them are Indigenous.”

They resembled the multinational population that is Vancouver today.

“It’s pretty busy in here now,” she said. “I’m going to have to find another sofa. Some of them come in and are lying on top of each other on the floor.”

Having to deal with almost double the number from last year was a shock.

But it’s an upsurge that many schools across the province are experiencing as growing numbers of students come to school hungry, without food to carry them through the day or money to buy it.

The numbers seeking a respite from hunger in her office are an indicator of how families once living near the poverty line have slipped below it.

Unprecedented increases in the cost of rent, food and other essentials are impoverishing families subsisting on social assistance or disability assistance or minimum wage jobs. Parents are now finding it harder to feed their children, and are hoping schools will provide them with food.

On this day, as the students gathered in Bonnie’s modest room, she busily shuffled frozen dinners of potatoes and meatballs, pasta, or buttered chicken through the microwaves.

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She buys meals from A Loving Spoonful, a community kitchen in Vancouver, for less than $5 a serving.

It’s Wednesday, so tonight she will be out shopping at Costco and was already making a list.

Bonnie has bread, cheese, yogurt, cereal, milk, noodles, boxes of pasta, and salmon she came across somewhere — “they last forever and are gluten free” — and provides halal-permitted food for Islamic students.

To keep this going, she is asking The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund for $19,000 from its Adopt-A-School campaign.

The money will provide breakfast and lunch and will allow her to clothe some students with jackets and boots who otherwise would have to survive the winter in cotton hoodies and worn-out sneakers.

It would also allow her to put away a portion to help students in the case of emergencies at home, such as a need for weekend food.

The school, which has 1,570 students, is seeking a further $9,000 to provide a breakfast program for its Learning Assistance Class of 50 students, many of whom are also coming to school hungry. And a grant of $6,000 to provide other impoverished students with winter clothes, food and necessities, said principal Chris Parker.

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Wendt has been with the Vancouver school district for 22 years and at Killarney since 2019.

In 2021, she was attempting to take care of hungry students out of her own pocket, spending thousands of dollars to keep them fed.

In September, she was doing it again, spending $1,000 of her own money when she found herself overwhelmed by the numbers of students needing food.

“It was only my holiday money. I’m fine with it,” she said.

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HOW TO DONATE

1. ONLINE: Donate online with a credit card at www.vansunkidsfund.ca

2. PHONE: Call 604-813-8673 to donate by credit card.

3. MAIL: Complete the donation form here and mail it with payment to: Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, Suite 1100-1200 West 73rd Ave., Vancouver, B.C., V6P 6G5 (Please make your cheque / money order payable to Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society.)

Contact: Michelle Roebuck, Fund Administrator at [email protected] or call 604-813-8673

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