Posted on November 20, 2015

Adopt-a-school: Douglas Road Elementary reaps benefits of adoption

Beedie Development Group support means daily breakfast and lunch once a week.

By Gerry Bellett
Special to The Vancouver Sun 
November 20, 2015 12:08 PM

It’s Friday and lunch day at Burnaby’s Douglas Road Elementary and there’s nothing but joy on the face of principal Mary-Ann Brown as she dishes out the macaroni and cheese to the line of waiting children each holding a plastic container and spoon.

“We do this once a week and the kids just love it,” says Brown “The Lotus Cafe makes it for us. Some weeks it’s beef stew or pasta and Alfredo sauce or teriyaki chicken — it’s mostly casserole-type things because it’s easy to serve,” she says.

There is no kitchen in the school and lunch from Monday to Thursday is whatever the children bring with them.

Today there’s a jar next to the macaroni for children put in their $3 for the meal, but occasionally there’s a child in the lineup who is unable to pay so into the jar goes a small coupon instead.

That coupon will be redeemed by a fund donated last year by employees from the headquarters of the nearby Beedie Development Group as part of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign.

“We believe it is, but we need to have data and statistical evidence to take to the market place and say ‘look this is what feeding these children is doing for them,’” said Beedie.

“Often companies or philanthropists will help if they can see their donations are doing something concrete. People won’t respond to some vague idea that they are helping. They need to see what their money is doing.

“We hope to inspire other companies to adopt schools which need help. But we are also thinking the findings could impact government policy,” he said.

SFU associate dean Andrew Gemino said the study would determine the impact of ”investing in breakfast” in terms of producing improvements in children’s grades and their social development.

“We want to understand the wider aspects — not just the feeding of children so they are not hungry — and to take an unbiased look at the impact it has on their grades and how it might help children develop a sense of community within the school.

“If you have 20 kids from different racial backgrounds eating together and talking to each other it should do a lot to end any feelings of isolation they might have,” said Gemino.

He said the findings will provide important data on a subject that has not attracted a lot of attention from researchers.

Gemino said the United States has a national program that feeds impoverished schoolchildren because “ they realize it’s a waste of money trying to educate a hungry child.”

No such program exists in Canada.

In B.C. emergency breakfast programs for these children are mostly provided by corporate or other donors such as Beedie Development Group or charities such as Adopt-A-School.

“It doesn’t take a lot to feed children the cost per student is small. The principal at Douglas Road has it down to less than a dollar per child,” said Gemino.

“Once we have the results of the SFU study we want to share the information so other companies will be encouraged to come forward and adopt a school, too,” Poleshuk said.

Considering the scale of what the Beedie employees have done, has adopting this school brought the satisfaction hoped for?

“It’s been more than what we expected,” says Bennett. “We wanted to be able to support families in need and the school offers us the perfect way to do that. When we go there we can see the impact it’s having on children. For us it’s mission accomplished.”

Without that fund Brown would never order in food, as it would leave the children whose families could not afford it on the sidelines.

“I had always wanted to have a lunch day but we could only do it if it was totally paid for. We couldn’t be feeding some but not others.”

Beedie’s donation is not only making lunch day possible but also a free breakfast that is served every day inside the staff room for 50 or so children.

That Brown and her staff would give up their sanctuary to prepare and serve cereal, toast, yogurt, cheese strings — sometimes staff cook up pancakes at home and bring them in, other days they will come in with scrambled eggs — says everything about how necessary it is.

“We even give them porridge. At first I didn’t think they’d like it but they love it,” says Brown.

The food gives them a good start to the day, she said.

“They are able to do so much more if they are happy and have a full tummy,” she says.

Bahare Poleshuk and Mason Bennett, two of the group of Beedie employees who between them raised more than $60,000 (matched by the company) to feed the children, are more than delighted with how Brown and her staff are coping.

“We originally planned that the $80,000 set aside for food would last five years but they are so frugal it will do at least seven,” said Bennett.

“But it’s a lot of work for them. I know Mary-Ann does a lot of the shopping and is really trying to stretch the money and the staff there are so engaged. We just hope they don’t suffer fatigue and burnout.”

Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business is currently studying children at the school to see what effect feeding the hungry has on their academic performance.

Ryan Beedie, president of Beedie Development Group, who commissioned the study said the results might impact government policy in regards to schools which are struggling to feed impoverished children.

Beedie said that it was important to measure the efficacy of the breakfast program to see if was having the intended effects.

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