-Loaves and Fishes executive director Halina Jarvis

-Loaves and Fishes executive director Halina Jarvis

Big hearts helping hungry children in Red Deer

The children are hungry. The church volunteers can barely keep up. We’re not talking about a far away, underdeveloped, poverty-stricken country.

The children are hungry. The church volunteers can barely keep up.

We’re not talking about a far away, underdeveloped, poverty-stricken country.

We’re talking about our children, in Alberta, the land of wealth — although clearly not for everyone.

How can it be that the richest province in Canada has thousands of children going to school every day hungry, without a lunch?

If it weren’t for the good souls trying to tackle the problem, all of these kids would be trying to learn on empty stomachs.

The provincial government leaves it up to churches and other non-profits to provide. But being hungry in school isn’t a problem unique to Alberta — it’s happening across Canada.

And Red Deer is no different than anywhere else. Five days a week, all school-year long, volunteers at the ministry of Loaves and Fishes make, put together, bag and deliver lunches for about 300 school children who would otherwise go hungry.

At this time of year, when the phone rings at Loaves and Fishes, it’s often another parent or school official discreetly asking for help for a child who has gone to school more than once without a lunch. What happens to these kids when school is out, like on weekends and holidays?

“If our hearts weren’t here, we wouldn’t be,” Pastor Christine Elliot says about the major task they undertake.

According to most recent statistics provided by Public Interest Alberta, at the end of 2012 there were 84,000 children living in poverty in Alberta.

A conference in Red Deer on Saturday, Oct. 4 at Gaetz United Church will bring people from across the province together to work on a strategy to end hunger in the classroom.

One of the organizers, Carolyn Pogue, is a member of The Child Wellbeing Initiative, which was formed about seven years ago by a group of United Church of Canada women in Alberta.

The church is also involved with the Inn From The Cold program that offers homeless people a warm bed for the night during the winter.

At first there were only single men sleeping in the churches, said Pogue, an author from the Calgary area. But over the years they have seen more women — single women, pregnant women and women with children seeking shelter in the winter.

“We’re thinking, ‘What is going on here? This is unconscionable.’ ”

They learned about Lethbridge teachers bringing food to school to feed hungry children. A closer look revealed it was happening across Alberta.

What Pogue finds frustrating is that there’s no overall plan by government to look after impoverished Alberta children.

A child may be lucky enough to attend a school where volunteers and churches offer lunches. But what about the kids who don’t live near such a school, or who are too embarrassed to say they are hungry but whose behaviour and learning is poor?

“Government says we are doing this, this and this. And we’re saying, ‘That’s good. Good for you but it’s not enough.’ We charities, we can’t fulfil the need. We need a bigger umbrella of help.”

“I don’t get why people aren’t outraged when they learn that these kids are sitting in classrooms trying to learn with an empty stomach.”

When she talks to people about the issue she hears, “It’s not my problem. It’s the parents’ responsibility to feed the kids, therefore they have stupid parents.”

“So am I to go to a six-year-old child who’s sitting there in Grade 1, wiggling or falling asleep, and say I’m so sorry I can’t feed you because you’ve got stupid parents, or addicted parents or sick parents or absent parents or whatever the reason is. You can’t do that. How can we live with that? Those are our children.”

The solutions to ending hunger in classrooms include a living wage, enough affordable housing, and more affordable daycare spaces, says Pogue.

“Because we’re rich and because we’re young and because we’re smart we should be able to lead this country in dealing with this problem.”

She sees a ray of hope with the arrival of Alberta’s new premier, Jim Prentice. In the first meeting with the premier, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson raised the issue of children in poverty and affordable housing.

For Pogue, it’s all about raising awareness, and she feels hopeful when public figures are talking about the issue of child poverty.

As for the upcoming conference in Red Deer, Pogue says every MLA has been invited. She’s not sure if any will attend.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Canopy Growth Corp. will deepen its U.S. presence by launching four sparkling cannabidiol waters, shown in a handout photo, there before possible federal legalization. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canopy Growth
Canopy Growth launches first CBD drinks in U.S. as legalization talk intensifies

Quatreau sparkling waters will be sold through e-commerce

A nurse assistant prepares a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 during a priority vaccination program for health workers at a community medical center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andre Penner
Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 needs better promotion: experts

National Advisory Committee on Immunization makes recommendations

A man receives his COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Olympic Stadium marking the beginning of mass vaccination in the Province of Quebec based on age in Montreal, on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Most Canadians confident federal vaccine rollout is back on track: poll

Fifty-six per cent of respondents confident in vaccine supply

Air Transat and Air Canada aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
International air travel a fraction of pre-pandemic times

International air travel during pandemic less than a 10th of what it was before COVID-19

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo, former NBA player Shaquille O’ Neal is interviewed on the red carpet for Shaq’s Fun House in Miami. O’Neal is set to perform in his first competitive match when he teams in All Elite Wrestling with Jade Cargill in a mixed tag to take on Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet at Daily’s Place on an episode of “Dynamite,” Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Shaq Attack: O’Neal ready to rumble in tag match for AEW

O’Neal’s first competitive match with All Elite Wrestling

Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto, center, speaks during a Tokyo 2020 executive board meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)
Tokyo Olympics add 12 women to executive board to reach 42 per cent

Board will now have 19 women among its 45 members

The Stratford Festival’s Festival Theatre is shown in Stratford, Ont., on May 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins
Stratford Festival plans next stages with two outdoor summer venues

Ontario festival productions set for between late June and the end of September

Treena Mielke
From record player to CD

When I first began dating my husband, he drove a little old… Continue reading

Ottawa banks on Big Pharma making Canada pandemic-proof

Liberal fireball François-Philippe Champagne may be brand new to his portfolio as… Continue reading

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones
Health: Keep blood pressure under control

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the things you think you… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Kailer Yamamoto (56) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly (44) reach for the rebound from Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (30) during second-period NHL action in Edmonton on Monday, March 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Most Read