King Albert: Lindsay school works with community to overcome income barriers

By Roderick Benns

King Albert Public School Principal, Dean Burke, with some of the items received for Christmas donations.

Part Two. This year, Statistics Canada has released new data on the social and economic well-being of cities and towns across Canada. This is part two in a series about Lindsay’s 12 lowest income neighbourhood zones and how they are coping in a challenging economic environment. To read Part One go here.

This is a story about a community coming together to fight an all-too-common scourge – the fact that incomes are too low to meet people’s needs.

Call it poverty. Call it scarcity. It doesn’t much matter.

The bottom line is that too many people aren’t earning enough to get by. It’s something our governments can address (but haven’t yet) and it’s something people can demand from their elected representatives (but haven’t yet in enough numbers.)

So we fight on against poverty, in a thousand little ways, because the little ways are all that we have control over at the community level.

And for now, those smaller battles really do matter.

Right now, as these words hit the screen, there’s a small army of King Albert Public School staff and volunteers at Cambridge Street United Church, to borrow the church’s kitchen. The students are about to experience a full Christmas feast on this day – a real, traditional holiday dinner.

That couldn’t happen without Lindsay’s Home Hardware. They fund the whole dinner, for the entire school.

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Street United Church.

Cambridge Street United Church, in addition to allowing the use of their kitchen on this day, also organizes a hot lunch for the students of King Albert twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.

It’s perhaps no surprise for those trafficking in common sense that the kids are doing much better with a full belly.

“There’s a great need for this,” says Jan Warren, the woman at Cambridge Street United who helps organize the program.

“Staff at the school have told us that the kids’ attitudes and behaviour have changed for the better. The teachers think the improvements have been remarkable,” she says.

In addition to the pizza, pasta, or grilled cheese – or whatever else the kitchen comes up with – there’s always a vegetable or a fruit that accompanies it.

“Not everybody needs it, but everybody gets it,” says Warren, with some of the parents kicking in a bit of money when they can.

Food for Kids

Food For Kids City of Kawartha Lakes is part of a provincial network, Student Nutrition Ontario, which works to support student nutrition programs. In 2013, King Albert was the focus for a Health School Initiative. At King Albert’s request, Food For Kids City of Kawartha Lakes and the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Rridge District Health Unit spearheaded the project to start a lunch program at King Albert and increase the capacity of the current breakfast/morning meal program.

A healthy school committee was formed. Food For Kids facilitated funding to support the initiative from a variety of sources totaling $12, 819.82, as well as provided kitchen equipment, nutrition information and menu options, and sustainable community partners, including Tim Horton’s, Reid’s Valu Mart, and Kawartha Lakes Food Source. Cambridge Street United Church provided volunteers for meal preparation as well as temporary kitchen facilities to cook the hot lunches.

Food For Kids continues to prioritize King Albert to ensure the success and sustainability of their important and much needed nutrition program by advocating annually for funding from major partners. To date, Food For Kids has provided King Albert with over $6600 of kitchen appliances and supplies, and has secured funding from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and President’s Choice Children’s Charity 13 times greater than before the initiative began.

King Albert Public School.

The Facts

King Albert Public School is in the middle of what Statistics Canada calls L126, a StatsCan ‘designated area.’ It’s an irregular shape, encompassing part of Durham, Melbourne, and Glenelg Streets as well as part of William, Cambridge, and Victoria Streets.

There are 510 people living in this zone, although the school’s catchment area extends beyond these borders.

The prevalence of low income for kids (ages 0-17) is at a crushing 53 per cent. In looking at working age adults, from age 18-64, the prevalence of low income is nearly 40 per cent in this area and for seniors it’s 48 per cent.

From an education standpoint, about 57 per cent have no post-secondary education at all, while more than 21 per cent lack even a high school diploma.

“There’s no doubt that King Albert is a needed hub for the community,” says Principal Dean Burke.

“If there’s any opportunity we can take to connect with the wider community to help in some way, then we take it,” he says.

It seems the community is responding. The relatively new Centre Community Church is on hand every Friday to do fresh, homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch. The church brings in the food and volunteers and then makes it right at the school.

Thanks to the intervention of both churches it means the kids of King Albert are getting a hot lunch three times a week.

For breakfast, that’s where Tim Horton’s and Food Basics grocery store have stepped up. Tim Horton’s donates their day-old muffins, bagels, and other foods to the school and the school freezes the food until needed at the next breakfast.

Food Basics can’t sell their eggs if even one is broken in the carton – but they can donate them to the school. Those eggs, in turn, are boiled by school staff who then can then provide hard-boiled eggs as snacks for the students.

“There’s a huge need for protein for the kids. That’s been a very helpful program,” says Burke.

Burke knows a thing or two about what need looks like firsthand. He spent much of his childhood living in the Durham Street East affordable housing complex, near Nayoro Park.

While he may now be principal of King Albert, at one time he was a student there.

“I have a pretty good understanding of what these kids are going through,” he tells The Lindsay Advocate.

“I was also fortunate to have some great teachers” along the way.

Looking Back

This isn’t new for King Albert, to be at the epicentre of need in this geographic zone. One retired teacher from the school who didn’t wish to be identified says she also attended King Albert as a student and then went back to teach there years later.

The challenge of low incomes and scarcity were well-known even then.

“I remember many of the parents and students being grateful for the role the school played in their lives,” she says.

The teacher remembers the first day of school was always exciting, with new clothes and new supplies – but not for everyone.

“There were many students who came with few new things and no supplies. I always felt that it was part of my job to make sure that all kids were prepared.”

The teacher recalls how school trips often posed a problem.

“There were always a few children who would come to class sad, after a trip was announced, because their parents had told them they couldn’t afford to pay for the trip.”

Teachers at King Albert always brought these families to the attention of the office. There was a “quiet” office fund that would help out the families in need so that no one was ever left behind.

Christmas was also a difficult time for some children. Some children felt badly because they couldn’t bring a treat or a gift for the teacher. Although gifts were discouraged, inevitably it was the norm to bring the teacher something.

One Christmas will always stay with this retired teacher, given the broken heart it left her with.

After opening the children’s presents and thanking them one year, it was time to get ready to go home. A little boy came up to her, looking sad, and apologized for not buying her a gift.

He said his mom told him they couldn’t afford it.

“I told him not to worry and that it wasn’t necessary.”

He went to get his coat and came back with a happy look on his face. He put 35 cents on her desk and said, “I found this in my pocket. I want to give it to you for Christmas. I hope it’s enough.”

“I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I told him he didn’t have to do that, and he should keep it, just in case he needed it. He said it was for me, and then he ran out of the room saying Merry Christmas. I literally cried.”

King Albert Public School and the community that rallies around it – from its own teachers and the school board, to businesses, parents, volunteers and the faith community – is resilient.

One day, perhaps with a national, full-fledged basic income program in place, government will support citizens in times of need as fast as they do corporations.

In the meantime, in a thousand little ways, community does what it can.

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