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Burnaby school district gets funding to help kids with back-to-school supplies, food amid rising inflation

Burnaby's school board chair says new $60M provincewide fund to help students with back-to-school supplies, food and field trips is 'great news for families' but 'something more permanent' is needed.

A one-time cash infusion from the province aimed at helping families with food and school supplies amid growing inflation is welcome news to Burnaby school officials – but they hope the government follows up with something more long-term.

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside was at Maywood Community School in Metrotown Monday to announce the Student and Family Affordability Fund, $60 million provincewide to help school districts make sure students are fed and have the school supplies they need in the coming school year.

The one-time funding will be provided directly to school districts to help them expand school meal programs, make sure students have the school supplies they need and cover any additional fees so students in need don’t miss out on activities, such as field trips, according to Whiteside.

She said districts will work with parent advisory councils and school communities, as well as local First Nations and other Indigenous organizations, to decide how best to meet the needs of diverse student populations.

Each district will get at least $250,000.

“Many families in B.C. are feeling the effects of global inflation on daily costs, including groceries, school supplies and other school expenses,” Whiteside said. “We're taking action by providing more funding that school districts will use to help meet the needs of families and students.”

Burnaby school board chair Jen Mezei said the announcement was “great news for families.”

“Food security has been an issue the board has been talking about for the last couple of years, especially during the pandemic,” she told the NOW.

Based on how many students showed up at the district’s “food hubs” at local schools during the pandemic, Mezei said more than 1,500 students from 1,300 families needed food support during COVID.

When asked if she was concerned about the one-time nature of the new funding, Mezei said: “We know that there’s going to be a need for food programs in schools, and our hope is that this will be replaced with something more permanent for families.”

Ashley Sandquist, the chair of Burnaby's district parent advisory council, echoed Mezei’s sentiments.

Now in her second year as chair, Sandquist said one major message she’s hearing from parents is that they’re stressed – and money is often a factor.

“Supply chains are one thing and then prices in the grocery store is another and then the gas, too. So, the struggle of the family is just endless,” she told the NOW.

She said the new funding will help, for now.

“It’s a small step, but it’s a start,” she said.

Whiteside acknowledged the new funding was a short-term measure and said the province is already working on longer-term solutions to food insecurity in schools.  

“We really wanted to be in a position to respond to the immediate need that families are experiencing right now,” she told the NOW. “We are working on a longer term provincial framework around school meals that was part of the mandate letter that I have as the minister of education. This will be a very helpful process to go through with districts to help inform that project as well. So, more news to come on that.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor