Skip to main content

The first question my five-year-old was asked each day he turned up to "strike camp" at the Britannia Community Centre was this: "Are you hungry?"

I'm happy to say he wasn't – we do our best to get a substantial breakfast into the kids before they leave the house in the morning.

But as he settled into Lego or some other activity, other kids at the camp were tucking into cereal and English muffins provided by the community centre.

Story continues below advertisement

Group activities often involved making food that could be taken home at the end of the day.

At the end of one afternoon, staff offered bags of groceries to parents picking up their children. No questions asked, no judgment – just take it if you need it.

Such is the reality of a community centre that serves renters from the nearby housing project, middle-class homeowners and everyone in between.

One of the perhaps unintended revelations of the school strike is the degree to which families rely on the breakfast and lunch programs offered by public schools.

And it's not just an inner-city problem. In Chilliwack, a church-run homeless shelter and soup kitchen opened its doors during the strike to children who rely on school lunch programs. Bill Raddatz, who oversaw the effort, says on the first day 26 kids turned up. Recognizing that the need was deeper, the shelter teamed up with another charity to offer a dinner service for families.

It has been three years since elementary school teacher Carrie Gelson posted her now famous open letter to the people of Vancouver in which she wrote that some of her students valued school because it was "a place of comfort – of daily breakfast, of hot lunch, of abundant books …" She asked for help providing – among other things – recess snacks for the children who arrived with nothing.

Given the more recent attention to the issue as a result of the strike, it's not a surprise that this week, two of the candidates in Vancouver's mayoralty race have vowed that if elected, no child in Vancouver will go to school hungry.

Story continues below advertisement

On Thursday NPA candidate Kirk LaPointe issued a news release saying exactly that. "From the day I announced my candidacy in July, I vowed to tackle this problem, which is nothing short of shameful in a city as wealthy as Vancouver," he said via the release. He went on to personalize the issue saying, "I grew up in poverty in a single-parent flat. My mother worked in a factory. Many mornings I went to school hungry."

Almost simultaneously (I can't say for certain which came first) Vision Vancouver held a news conference and issued its own release: "In a city as prosperous and compassionate as Vancouver, there is no reason why any kid should go to school hungry," said the mayor, vowing to double the reach of current breakfast programs.

It seems, on the surface anyway, a tad unseemly to be trying to score political points on the empty tummies of hungry kids. It's not as though you're going to run into an opponent who thinks feeding hungry children is a bad idea.

But modern, take-no-prisoners politics demands promises, regardless of whether those promises can be kept.

This one though, like the promise of ending homelessness, or increasing affordable housing is too important to mess with.

Promise more transparency and then lock down city hall? The public may let that one slide. Promise to make the city more green, or a haven for the creative class? Well, that one may be hard to quantify so the promise may never be tested.

Story continues below advertisement

But when you tell families that making sure their kids get fed is your top priority, you had better have a plan. Not an idea, not a sketch, not an outline but a real plan. One with dollar figures attached to it and a real source of money. Those charities that are going to participate? They better have names and be prepared to write you great big photo-op cheques.

But that's just the beginning. You need to be sincere about tackling the real issues behind child poverty and pushing hard to make certain that the senior levels of government can't ignore the issue.

You have to be ready to embarrass them into taking action, if that's what it takes.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One - 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter