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Edmontonians launch efforts to help students cut off from school food programs during pandemic

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The vital role played by schools in keeping students fed in northeast Edmonton became even more evident to Sobeys Belmont owner Jerry MacLachlan last year when he was dropping off donations.

A portable toast cart was rolled into the classroom as the teacher called out “Who wants toast?”

“Every little hand went up,” recalled MacLachlan, his voice cracking. “So now think about that in context to where we’re at right now.”

It’s been more than a week since classes were cancelled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The closures abruptly shut down Alberta Education’s school nutrition program that has provided more than 96,000 students with daily meals since the start of the 2017 school year.

The Alberta government has asked school authorities to find ways to continue the service. Larger school boards, like Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic, say they hope to announce plans soon.

In the meantime, MacLachlan is one of many Albertans finding innovative ways to get food to students who relied on meals at school until last week.

“If they were food insecure before, now it’s just magnified,” said MacLachlan. “The children highly depend on those programs. To think that they went from having that toast every morning or having the snack that’s in the teacher’s desk … now the weight is totally [born] by the parents.

“You can just imagine the stress and probably the despair.”

A community food drive was launched by Sobeys Belmont owner Jerry MacLachlan, shown here with his family. (Submitted by Jerry MacLachlan)

‘Heroes Against Hunger’

Hours after being inspired Tuesday morning, MacLachlan launched the food drive, Heroes Against Hunger. 

It draws on a countrywide Sobeys fund set up to help local communities. But the initiative was also inspired by a Toronto Star cartoon that shows two grocery store clerks with Batman, Wonder Woman and other superheroes and the slogan, “It’s official. Grocery store workers are now in the club.”

By Tuesday afternoon, MacLachlan’s $1,000 pledge was matched by five Edmonton business owners and talks were underway with Edmonton Public School trustee Michelle Draper about how to get Sobeys gift cards to families experiencing food insecurity.

Heroes Against Hunger is also supported by the C5 North East Community Hub, which offers services and programs like community kitchens where residents cook together and practice their English.

Corinne Saad, C5’s director, said families in the area experience significant food insecurity and depend heavily on the school nutritional programs. Before the hub was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 40 people showed up every day for lunch.

Northeast community members connect at a community kitchen run by C5 where they cook together while practising their English. (Submitted by Corinne Saad)

Saad painted a picture of the effort required by a typical client to get to the food bank.

“She’s got to get a bus to get to the LRT, get on the LRT, get another bus, with her kids in tow and then have food on top of that to come back,” she said.

“It’s really a barrier for her to be able to get what she needs. With the hub being closed, we’re really anxious to be able to ensure that we’re connecting families to the food and nutrition that they need.”

One useful resource helping them to do that is the Facebook page YEG Community Response to COVID19, with more than 10,000 members.

Those looking for help can fill out forms online to request food, diapers and other items for delivery. 

The Facebook page is also a good resource for Edmontonians looking to support C5 and other initiatives, Saad added.

Food For Thought still operating

By modifying its operations, Food For Thought has managed to continue feeding 550 children daily from 15 Edmonton Public schools, said board member Kristine Kowalchuk.

Schools receive ingredients ordered from the Italian Centre through the grocery delivery service, Spud.ca. Teachers and principals pack it into hampers and food bags and drive it to students’ homes across the city.

“We are continuing the service despite the school closures because we realize that the need is heightened right now,” Kowalchuk said.

That innovation is also being seen in southern Alberta where school boards such as Prairie Rose School Division have found creative ways to get the food program up and running again.

Support staff are putting together meal packages funded by the province with the support of the food bank and donations from businesses.

The packages are then delivered by school bus drivers to the front steps of families.

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Education

Black and racialized Canadians lacking on boards, study finds – Terrace Standard

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Black and racialized people are under-represented and often sometimes non-existent on boards in eight major cities across Canada.

A new study from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute has found both groups lacking on the boards of large companies, agencies and commissions, hospitals, educational institutions and in the voluntary sector in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London and Ottawa.

The study of 9,843 individuals revealed Black Canadians represent 5.6 per cent of the population across the eight cities studied, but occupy only 2 per cent of positions across the types of boards analyzed.

Racialized people, meanwhile, represent 28.4 per cent of the population across the eight cities studied, but occupy just 10.4 per cent of board positions.

“The data is bad, but some of the stories are even worse,” said Wendy Cukier, the founder and academic director at the Diversity Institute.

“We interviewed one person who told a story of a guy who worked on Bay Street, and he’d go out with his colleagues and tell them he was a recovering alcoholic, so he did not have to divulge that he was Muslim and that’s why he didn’t drink.”

Despite decades of efforts to move the needle, the report says, there are multiple factors holding back significant progress. These include corporate culture, lack of social networks, discrimination, pressures to refrain from self-identification and a need for mentorship or support.

The institute believes it is important to reverse these trends because studies have suggested companies with diverse boards have increased financial performance and show higher employee satisfaction.

Their study, conducted in 2019 and 2020 by analyzing photographs of boards and interviewing underrepresented communities, found Black representation on boards in particular is ”extremely bleak.”

Black people hold as many as 3.6 per cent of the board seats in Toronto, but as few as 1 per cent in Calgary and 0.7 per cent in Vancouver.

That dwindles further in the corporate sector. In Toronto, just 0.3 per cent of corporate board members are Black. That’s 25 times lower than the proportion of Black residents of the Greater Toronto Area.

In Greater Montreal, which has a 6.8 per cent Black population, the study found no Black board members in the area’s corporate, voluntary, hospital or education sectors.

Paulette Senior, the president and chief executive of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, wasn’t surprised by the findings, but said “it broke my heart” because it highlighted how little progress has been made.

“Unfortunately, it is somewhat typical of who we are as a Canadian society,” she said.

“We haven’t done much to see the change. We talk about it on various platforms, but the action is missing and the tracking and monitoring is missing.”

Also missing from boards are racialized Canadians — defined in the study as all non-Caucasian persons.

Racialized people hold as many as 15.5 per cent of the board seats in Toronto, again lower than the population at large. Montreal lagged again at 6.2 per cent.

The study found boards in the education sector have the highest level of representation of racialized people at 14.6 per cent, while the corporate sector has the lowest level of representation with 4.5 per cent.

In several of the cities surveyed, racialized women hold fewer board seats than non-racialized women despite outnumbering them in the population at large.

In Toronto, for example, there are more racialized women than non-racialized women, but non-racialized women outnumber racialized women in corporate leadership roles by 12 to 1.

“Because of my role and because I’m invited into many different places, I’m usually the only one that looks like me,” said Senior.

“It is heartbreaking to think there are people who have lived and worked and existed, who continue to devalue people like me and devalue my contributions.”

The study found women are faring better than their Black and racialized counterparts.

Overall, 40.8 per cent of board positions are held by women in the five sectors examined. Education and agency and commission boards have the highest level of representation, while hospital and corporate boards have the lowest.

Women have landed the most — 46.6 per cent — board seats in Halifax, but the least in Calgary, where they comprise 33.7 per cent of board positions.

The Diversity Institute also says Indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and persons with disabilities are rarely members of boards.

The institute was not able to calculate how much they lagged other groups because it could not determine Indigenous heritage, sexual orientation or disabilities through its analysis of board photos.

Instead, they interviewed members of each population and heard stories from people such as one man who said most of his queer mentors told him early in his career to “hide who you are until you get promoted so high that they can’t get rid of you without people noticing.”

Aside from interviews, the only way to uncover information around representation of those with Indigenous heritage, disabilities or LGBTQ2S+ sexual orientation on boards is through surveys, which often involve voluntary participation, Cukier said.

“The surveys that have been done on those populations indicate that they are so underrepresented, they don’t even show up,” said Cukier.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


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Demolition begins for new housing project at Winnipeg’s Misericordia Health Centre

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The sounds of demolition echoed through Winnipeg’s West Broadway area Thursday morning, as work began to make way for a new seniors’ assisted living centre.

The development will replace the Misericordia Education and Resource Centre, at the corner of Sherbrook Street and Wolseley Avenue. It’s expected to take about two years to complete, according to Caroline DeKeyster, the president and CEO of Misericordia Health Centre.

Once finished, the Misericordia Assisted Living Centre will stand 10 storeys tall and contain 97 suites. The $32-million development will include a second-floor patio, a solarium, a library and a skywalk giving direct access to the hospital.

WATCH | Demolition gets underway:

An excavator begins demolition at the Misericordia Education and Resource Centre Thursday morning. 0:44

“Affordable assisted living housing for older adults is very much needed in our neighbourhood,” DeKeyster said.

A media release from Misericordia cited a 2014 study, which found the MERC building needed significant upgrades to its mechanical, electrical and safety systems. The high cost of addressing the deficiencies convinced the hospital to replace the six-storey building with a new purpose-built facility.

Demolition and cleanup of the site is expected to take up to a month. 

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Quebec parents willing to go to court to keep kids out of classrooms

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A group of parents have engaged constitutional lawyer Julius Grey to issue a letter to the Quebec minister of education, outlining the need for an online schooling option for families that are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school.

“The school environment is not proven to be safe at this point,” said Politimi Karounis, one of the four parents represented by Grey, on CBC Montreal’s Daybreak.

“It would be contrary to the spirit of the charter and the Constitution to force them physically to go on the premises despite what the family thinks,” Grey said. “What is unconstitutional is not having an exception.”

Grey has sent a letter of warning on behalf of the parents to the Education Ministry asking that the government accommodate their request.

Another parent, Sarah Gibson, launched a petition on Sunday that has more than 8,000 signatures, calling on the Quebec government to revise its back-to-school plan, arguing it is outdated and puts those with vulnerable family members at risk.

With the fall term just weeks away, the province’s current plan is to have all students back in classrooms. Younger students will be in groups of six, and must keep their distance from teachers and students who are not in their bubble.

Unlike in Ontario and Alberta, students will not be required to wear masks. Although the Quebec government says it is re-evaluating its position.

Karounis has two school-aged children and a toddler at home, and says she’s worried that they could infect her mother, who helps with childcare, if they were to return to class.

Parents currently have the option to home-school their children, but must leave their current school — making it harder to return once they feel it is safe to do so.

“They could not simply follow along with their classmates,” Karounis said. “My only option from the current directive is completely remove them from their current school.”

The province is expected to make an announcement about its back-to-school plan next week. Parents and teachers argue much has been learned since the plan was first announced in June, and they’re hoping for revisions.

“I hope [the government] listens to these parents and creates the option of staying home and not losing your place,” said Grey.

The Education Ministry declined a request to comment on the letter.

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