In a province of such wealth, it’s hard to believe that anyone goes hungry, let alone British Columbia’s kids. But despite BC’s apparent rosy economic outlook, nearly one in five children live in poverty, according to the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card. That number skyrockets to nearly 50 percent for single parent households, most of which are headed by mothers.
Food insecurity, a serious public health problem in Canada, is a consequence of poverty, and is exacerbated by social factors like low paid, precarious employment. This is why too many children arrive at school with empty stomachs, says Robin Stewart, who helps coordinate the breakfast program for the New Westminster school district. “We’re just trying to create a level playing field for all kids at school,” she explains.
Research consistently shows that “children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have poor diets and poor academic performance resulting in lower levels of educational attainment and poorer health outcomes.” [Source] This is why Monica Nathan, part of the administrative staff at UFCW 1518, wanted to organize a cereal drive. “They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I can’t imagine being a little kid and trying to pay attention or behave well on a growling stomach.”
UFCW 1518 responded to Nathan’s appeal for breakfast foods with enthusiasm. “I was thrilled with the response. I thought one big box would be enough – I was wrong!” she says, adding that leadership and staff filled two large boxes with a variety of cereals. The cereal was donated to Queensborough Middle School, which is located in an area that suffers from a dearth of quality employment, and has no grocery stores or food banks, says Stewart. The breakfast program operates Monday to Friday and is run by staff and retirees from the community. It feeds upwards of two dozen children – and sometimes their parents. “If they have 50 cents they pay 50 cents. If they have nothing they pay nothing,” Stewart adds.
The partnership between UFCW 1518 and the New Westminster Schools breakfast program was facilitated by Carlos Carvalho, labour liaison for the United Way. “My job is to work with unions and connect them to engagement or education opportunities with agencies in the community. It’s part of the United Way’s mission of building health, caring and inclusive communities for all.”
The timing for such a partnership couldn’t have been better. “UFCW 1518 gave a massive donation of food at the end of the year, when cupboards are starting to get a little empty,” notes Stewart.
To make a donation to the New Westminster Schools breakfast program or for more information, visit http://newwestschools.ca/.