Government can do more: Cullen
“You’re the outcast if you don’t have the in-stuff. You’ve got to be dressed just so because (you’re) pushed aside and (you’re) nothing then.”
Her son was once called “just too poor” by another student, “and that really bothered him,” she says.
For poor children school lunch is also a major headache because of the dietary restrictions imposed by the schools and lack of money. Both parents provide their children with a packed lunch because they can’t afford the $5 they say is required daily for the schoolbought meal. But if the sometimes-cheaper ingredients for sandwiches are not permitted because of allergic reactions among other students and staff, they are stuck. Tracy, who lacks Kim’s extended-family supports, admits she has occasionally kept her children at home because she couldn’t afford to make a sandwich acceptable to the school.
Both women have had trouble getting their children to attend the breakfast, which they say the school provides free-of-charge each day to all students, regardless of their parents’ income, because they fear they will be stigmatized if they show up there. According to Tracy, “they’re afraid someone is going to judge them for going down.”
Tracy says her children would sometimes go without food if not for the local food bank. Kim, who doesn’t want to overburden her supportive family, concedes, “I got to use the food bank. If not, I might not make it till the next week or the next two weeks, so I got to go.” They have both gone without personal items to give to the kids.
Anne Collins Brown, client services officer with the Single Parent Association of N.L. (SPAN) says, “I know of single-parent families where the mother hasn’t eaten in two or three days.”
Purchasing backpacks and school supplies are additional hurdles. If these young women hadn’t received theirs from the 73 distributed free-of-charge in the area by SPAN this year, they would have to make further cuts to already sparse budgets. Each SPAN backpack, filled with school supplies, cost between $75 and $100. Other organizations in the region also distribute them at no cost.
School-field trips are another source of anxiety for these young mothers, especially Tracy. They want their children to benefit from the educational field trips, but they don’t have the money to buy meals at the fast-food outlets such as Mary Brown’s when the class stops there for lunch. Tracy can provide a packed lunch but her sons are too embarrassed to eat it. “The point is, they’re sitting down with their snack packs and he’s with his lunch tin,” she says.
These young women want government to give them more money to educate their children and they should get it. It is a scandal that Canada, a FirstWorld country, supports this self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. We support it by not giving our low-income parents enough money to raise their children with the dignity that instils hope. It will cost more initially, but we will save in the long run.
We will save by reducing escalating health-care costs associated with poor nutrition and by reducing incarceration and social housing costs, for our poor and uneducated are more likely to end up in jail or on the streets. To those who scoff and say, “We can’t afford it” or “They’ll only blow the extra money on beer or lotto tickets”, well, the people who do that can be issued vouchers to take to a store in exchange for nutritious food and good clothing.
We have two elections coming up. Poverty reduction must be considered a serious issue by all politicians at both levels of government, and not just something to which lip service is given and then forgotten once the votes are counted. Recommendations must be made and more importantly implemented.
SPAN doesn’t deliver backpacks and if other organizations can’t, then Ken Russell’s Bay Robertsbased Bell Aliant Pioneer Volunteers TriCon club will. It is composed of current and retired Bell telephone employees. In late August, it had 86 filled backpacks for elementary-school students from Heart’s Content to Colliers and the Whitbourne area.