CRAWFORD BAY — It’s unlikely that most British Columbians could point a finger at this tiny village of 350 residents on a map.
It sits in beautiful isolation among the Purcell mountains on Highway 3A. An hour’s drive south is Creston and the Idaho border, and an hour’s drive east is Nelson — after a 35-minute ferry ride across Kootenay Lake.
A quiet, rural community used to taking care of itself. And by and large it still does.
But the social and economic pressures wrought by the pandemic and the aftermath that brought soaring food prices and sky-high rents is now affecting this village’s ability to provide sufficient food for children coming to school hungry.
“We have one of the most beautiful schools in the district. We have a huge playground and a forest for our kids to play in and we have a lot of things going for us,” said Victoria McAllister, the new principal of Crawford Bay school, a composite kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school with 70 students.
“We have some real strengths, but our operating budget for food is really low. COVID has had some outsized impacts on this area and (lack of) food is a huge one.”
The school is trying to feed hungry students, but is finding it difficult.
“Our (parents advisory council) runs an unbelievable hot lunch program with a full salad bar with 15 different veggies and proteins plus a hot entrée,” McAllister explained.
Families who can afford it pay for lunch. For those who can’t, the school will “quietly pay that fee,” she said.
Until this year, the school was able to provide a breakfast for children coming to school hungry.
But then the number of families needing help with lunch increased while funding sources fell. To continue serving lunch to everyone, the breakfast program was cancelled.
“We provided a healthy breakfast because we have some families with complex needs where kids were arriving here without breakfast. But we haven’t been able to get that going this year because we have so many families asking for support to cover lunch,” she said.
The school’s food coordinator, Alana Strom, said families believing “it would be cheaper” have moved into the area since the pandemic.
But some are finding it difficult to get work in a region where many jobs are seasonal or pay minimum wage, Strom explained.
McAllister has been a principal in other rural schools, but was surprised at the level of need in Crawford Bay, which only has one small grocery store.
“There were some industries that have left the area. With housing prices, quite a few families are living in trailers or transient housing,” she said.
“The nearest full grocery store is an hour’s drive away and families are not able to access healthy food unless they’ve got transportation and can afford a two-hour drive.
“I’ve never worked in a school where families showed so much resilience as families do here, or creativity living within limited means. But I’ve never seen quite this level of need.
“I was a principal in Kaslo, which is just an hour away, but there’s a full grocery store there, counselling services, a hospital, the RCMP, and all kinds of emergency services that just don’t exist here,” she said.
The school needs $10,000 from The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Adopt-A-School campaign so it can reinstate breakfast, keep its lunch program going, and provide an emergency fund for families in need.
Having the school provide breakfast and lunch for children whose parents are struggling with the high cost of food is crucial, she said.
“Getting food at school means families can save for dinners. Our kids are pretty healthy, but families are leaning on us for ways that support them with dinners and (food) at the weekend.”
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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