One of the great local successes of the White Rock Rotary Club in the past few years isn’t a bricks and mortar building or a monument set in stone.
Its importance to the community can best be seen in the smiles of children, and heard in their laughter and animated conversation before the school day begins at Jessie Lee Elementary.
Funded by the club and run by a rotation of people who have volunteered to pitch in – including parents, Rotary members, school child-worker Debby Chow and principal Carol Davison – the Good Morning Club provides students who need it a nutritious breakfast every morning.
Depending on the day, that can include such energy-builders as scrambled eggs, waffles, cereal or fresh fruit.
It’s aimed at children whose families, due to economic constraints or the struggle to meet work schedules – and often a combination of both – can’t provide such a breakfast at home.
For children whose parents must drop them off before the school day begins, the 7:45- 8:30 a.m. program provides a safe, warm environment – rather than hanging around outside the school office – and a chance to eat, socialize and get a good start on the day.
It’s increasingly evident that the program – started more than two years ago as an initiative of former club president Joan Apel – is needed, current president Raj Rajogopal told the Peace Arch News during a recent visit to the Good Morning Club by Rotarians.
“The program started with about 12 children registered. Now it’s up to about 39,” he said. “We want to say this is happening – and not only that it’s happening but that, thanks to the support of people in the community, it’s working.
“We get a grant of $2,000 from the Rotary Foundation and the whole program costs about $4,000 a year.”
Most of the supplies come from Save-On Foods, which has an ongoing agreement with the Surrey School District for such programs.
As Rotarians – including Apel and Bonnie Goodwin, the club’s director of community services – helped pass around bowls of cereal and plates of fruit, the children happily finished their breakfasts and chattered away.
“They’re all very well behaved,” Rajogopal observed. “They help with the dishwasher and the older kids help the younger kids.”
Davison, overseeing students registered, said that some 26 had checked in that morning, but probably almost as many again would wander in before the bell for classes.
Not all of the children who attend the club come from economically disadvantaged or working-poor families, Davison and the Rotarians said – but it is a factor in the program’s continuing growth.
“People say there are no poor people in White Rock and South Surrey, but we know differently,” Rajogopal said.
“Some of the families here are using the food bank,” Apel said, adding that when she first started the initiative , the club consulted with Surrey School District to see where such help would be most needed.
Jessie Lee was determined the best fit, Davison explained.
“The demographic is changing, but there are still areas – like the townhouses around the old Sunnyside Elementary site – where there are a lot of low-income familes,” she said. “For other people, the situation at home is pretty stressful – just getting to work and feeding the children is a challenge. Dropping them off here is a lot less stress.”