One-third of elementary age children are turning up hungry at school each day on the Sunshine Coast. Translated into hard numbers that means approximately 554 kids are arriving to learn on an empty stomach. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“For only $15 per kid per year Breakfast For Kids can provide nourishment for these kids, an amount many of us consider pocket change,” Heather Gordon, program director said.
For 13 years the Breakfast For Kids (BFK) program, run out of the Sechelt Community School, has been addressing this problem. But now Gordon is sounding the alarm that after this June there will be no food in the larder and no funding to access more.
At a community round table meeting on April 25 Gordon welcomed 35 people from various stakeholder groups in youth and children concerns including local government, the school board, churches, service clubs, and other agencies. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to raise the necessary money to continue and enhance the breakfast program without impacting other programs dealing with hunger on the Coast.
Prior to this year the Gibsons Thrift Store was a welcome source of funding. However the store was recently bought by the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society as a social enterprise to fund their own programs, which focus on families and children. And while Gordon is the first to acknowledge the good work the society does her group is now scrambling to find alternative funding.
Gordon runs the program with one other person. School District No. 46 pays for six hours a week for Sally Simpson to program BFK.
The program began on a small scale in 1999 with Sechelt Elementary School parents putting out breakfast for hungry students. Soon other schools copied with the parent advisory councils (PAC) in the schools making muffins and cutting up fruit for children to graze on.
Local grocery stores have been very giving to the program over the years including handsome discounts, but Gordon is concerned about the many times the retailers are asked to donate. As with all need on the Coast there are many agencies dealing with hunger and some of them have been around much longer than the BFK program.
One of the generous supporters of local programs, Tim Thompson, owner of the Gibsons SuperValu, said at the meeting that his store is continually asked for donations of foodstuff with short expiry dates. Any new organization he supports will mean a previous group will see their donation downsized from the finite amount of food the store has available at any time.
Another concern Gordon relayed to the meeting attendees on April 25 is the amount of expensive protein that children with fetal alcohol syndrome require to process information. Supplying that need is almost impossible for BFK.
“Kids with FASD need about twice as much protein as other kids just to make their little neurons work. They have to concentrate so hard to do their work and that takes a lot of protein,” she explained.
Eight out of nine Coast elementary schools and one alternate secondary school use the program at present. Gordon worries about what happens to kids outside school.
Hunger, she said, doesn’t turn off when the child goes home for the day. In a perfect world her dream would be to send the youngster home with a goodie bag to share with his or her family.
After Gordon and Simpson made their presentation those in attendance were polled for ideas to combat the lack of funding.
One participant, Rev. Clarence Li from St. Hilda’s Anglican Church said taking care of the hungry is the “core of Christian faith” and he was eager to take the problem back to his parish.
Already the meeting is having a positive result in the community.
Alick Troup, team leader at the Ministry of Children and Families in Sechelt got a $15 donation from 100 per cent of the people in his office. Now he’s challenging other ministry offices to do the same. And an appeal to Coast Reporter employees resulted in a similar result. If you would like more information or to offer solutions to BFK’s cash-strapped dilemma contact Gordon at 604-885-2720.
You can donate to the program at any branch of the Sunshine Coast Credit Union. The account is Sunshine Coast Breakfast for Kids, number 46546. To get a tax receipt for donations over $20 make your cheque payable to School District 46 with Breakfast for Kids in the memo line and mail to Box 1545, Sechelt, BC V0N 3A0.