Photo by Don Fennell
The Caped Crusader is on a mission.
Pulling into the driveway outside Samuel Brighouse elementary last week in his suped-up Batmobile, Batman (Rick Nelson) and his hunger-fighting colleagues from the Richmond School District drew plenty of cheers.
Led by a police escort, the team of works yard employees are part of a unique motorcycle procession. They’re spending about 10 minutes this morning visiting with students at each of the 11 Richmond schools that have breakfast clubs.
It’s an enormous undertaking, one that requires significant time planning. But one Mike Beausoleil hopes is making a difference.
“One day (five years ago) I was talking to our carpentry foreman about how a lot of us ride bikes. And with one of our staff members also being a Scrabble master, we thought let’s do a scramble,” recalls Beausoleil, the works yard director, and the main organizer of the Breakfast Scrambble.
The title is literally a play on words, as the staff of 17 “bikers” raise awareness and funds for the Feed-U-Cate 38 program. A decorated school bus travels with the crew where, at each school, students select letters to participate in a game of Scrabble. The winning school (Whiteside won last year) will earn the grand prize—breakfast cooked by the works yard staff, as well as a recognition plaque. Its students also have the honour of designing next year’s t-shirts and event posters.
The works yard staff has also raised funds (the total is in excess of $6,000) by selling student-designed t-shirts, along with accepting donations. All proceeds go directly to the district Feed-U-Cate program to help fund breakfast club programs.
The positive response has overwhelmed Beausoleil and his colleagues.
“We had no idea what to expect, but elated doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he says. “This really reinforces what we do and why we do it.”
The breakfast club is enthusiastically supported at Brighouse, says principal Emmanuel Adjei-Achampong.
“It is such an important aspect of our school community for many reasons,” he explains. “Every time we meet to eat together there is that sense of community. We’re addressing a social issue, but at the same time not singling anyone out by opening (breakfast) all members of the study body. Through the work of Glenn Kishi (with whom the idea originated), Feed-U-Cate is such a huge part of what we’ve been doing (in education). Our motto at Brighouse is where everyone counts, and this reflects that message.
“And without fail on Fridays, the day we hold our breakfast club, we see our least number of lates and absenteeism,” he laughs. “Even the parking lot is calmer because more people come earlier.”
A longtime former Richmond teacher and administrator, Kishi advanced the Richmond School District program that helps provide funding to schools that run breakfast and lunch programs for students. On average, participating schools spend over $15,000 a year to support these programs. Traditionally, all the funds are donated or raised by school groups, individual donations or parents advisory councils.
Richmond School District vice chair Sandra Nixon says “it’s great to see folks who don’t often get engaged with schools, but are the backbone of making it all happen.”
“(Feed-U-Cate) is an extremely important program that not only nourishes the tummies of kids who really need it, but nourishes the spirit of the whole community.”
Feed-U-Cate 38 aims to lessen the dependence on these groups by sourcing additional funding from the community.
“As part of the (district) agreement to attend WE Day for free, all schools had to commit to a local project and an international project,” Kishi says of Feed-U-Cate 38’s launch in 2012. “I realized there were schools in the district that were seeking financial assistance to help with their breakfast programs.”
“Collectively, the district increases success finding solutions that mitigate the effects of child poverty by working together and combining efforts,” says district spokesperson David Sadler.