School District #27 superintendent Mark Thiessen

Teacher poverty challenge benefits food bank

Without too much effort a poverty challenge in Williams Lake raised just over $5,500 for the Salvation Army Food Bank.

Without too much effort a poverty challenge in Williams Lake raised just over $5,500 for the Salvation Army Food Bank.

“Some of the teachers raised money by donating $26 or more, but two teachers also tried to live off the $26 a week for groceries,” said organizer Shannon Rerie, a teacher at Columneetza secondary school.

Rerie is also a member of the BCTF Committee for Action on Social Justice and said November was anti-poverty month.

“At a meeting in Prince George where we were coming up with some different strategies around advocating for a poverty reduction plan and ideas were shared about activities different communities had planned,” Rerie said.

She returned to Williams Lake and asked her colleagues what could be done locally and the $26 poverty challenge was the result.

“A lot of people have heard about it. That’s what you’re basically left with for the week after you’ve paid rent, hydro, and all your other bills.”

After receiving approval from School District 27, Rerie sent out an e-mail to schools suggesting they participate in the challenge of trying to survive on $26 a week for groceries, “knowing full well” she couldn’t do it herself.

“I get grumpy when I’m hungry and dealing with 120 teenagers and being really grumpy probably would not have gone over very well, but we have had a few teachers take it on and it’s been amazing. One woman’s written an article about it, but wants to remain anonymous. One of those teachers is also trying to see if she can continue for at least a month.”

A few days into the challenge, Rerie received a phone call from a colleague at Williams Lake secondary school who suggested the two high schools, along with Peter Skene Odgen school in 100 Mile House, participate to see which school could raise the most money.

“The principals at WL and PSO had a side bet going and the losing school’s principal would have to wear the other school’s colours. It sort of took on a life of its own, the fundraising aspect of it, and of course there is such a competitive nature between the two big high schools in Williams Lake.”

In the end Williams Lake secondary won, raising $2,55l. Columneetza raised $2,078, Glendale elementary school raised $260 and Nesika elementary school raised $40.

Those funds will go to the Salvation Army food bank in Williams Lake, while an additional $800 raised by the school board office will go to the food bank in 100 Mile House.

While the fundraising demonstrates “great” social responsibility, food banks were developed 30 years ago as a “band-aid” solution to a temporary problem, Rerie said. “Food banks are going stronger than ever and more used than ever and the government has come to rely on them. They have to be there, they are no longer a temporary solution to a problem.”

She has been encouraging BCTF members to sign a petition on www.firstcall.org, which ranks B.C. as having the second worst child poverty in Canada.

“We see that every day in the schools. I have granola bars in my classroom constantly. We have kids coming to school without eating, without adequate clothing, or no winter jackets. We see it all the time as teachers,” Rerie said.

“They don’t know necessarily that they are so bad off, that’s just how they think everybody lives. We run the breakfast program here because kids need to eat healthy food on a regular basis.”

Whichever government gets elected in May, Rerie insisted they have to have a poverty reduction plan in place and affordable childcare.

“Even if people are living on minimum wage, they are not making enough to live on. I tried to work at Safeway a few summers ago because I’m a single mom and I was struggling. I didn’t get enough hours to cover my bills, let alone buy groceries.”

The notion that people can work their way out of poverty is a myth, she added. “Some people cannot even see their way out of a week, because they are focused on the next meal, never mind working their way out of poverty.”

Smiling Rerie calculated the cost of one food hamper is $175, and said the donation should go a long way, and the neat thing is it did not take a lot of effort to raise the funds.

Students had fun participating through a ‘pay to play day’ at Columneetza secondary school where students brought in spare change and at Williams Lake secondary there were pizza sales.

Next year Rerie hopes they can raise $10,000.

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