Photo by Andrew Hung
When Orin Gavsie introduced the topic of poverty in Richmond to his Social Studies 11 class at R.C. Palmer Secondary School, this came as a surprise to many of his students.
“I talked about poverty in Richmond and they were baffled. Some of them even challenged me,” said Gavsie.
Many of his students are aware of poverty in other parts of the world, where people are deprived of basic necessities like food, shelter and water.
“But they don’t see what’s right under their nose,” the teacher said.
Many people don’t believe that poverty exists in Richmond, says Orin’s father Ed, the president and CEO of the charity Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives.
Several students from Orin’s social studies class pointed out that they don’t see homeless individuals on their way to school, and that living conditions here are pretty good.
But the truth is that Richmond has a population of the “working poor,” Ed told the students, who visited the RCRG’s toy rooms in the Richmond Park Pavilion on Dec. 5.
“The need in Richmond isn’t abating. It continues to be very strong,” he said.
Members from this demographic may be working two to three jobs, often at minimum wage, he said.
Coun. Bill McNulty also took a tour, and he pointed out that some people are spending between 30 and 50 per cent of their net income on rent.
McNulty also urged everyone to help with this situation.
“Hopefully you will do something small about it. Whether you donate a dollar from your lunch money to the Christmas fund, or you bake something, or you do something for someone else, it is always appreciated.”
During the holiday season, RCRG seeks to fight poverty through the Richmond Christmas Fund. Eligible individuals and families can receive grocery gift certificates: one certificate per family member, and up to a maximum of four per household.
After Ed’s talk, he led the students to where the toys were stored. Two long and narrow locker rooms were lined with toys on either side for children under the age of 12. An eclectic mix of cars, dolls and other toys were perched on several shelves, ranging from Shopkins figurines to a Hot Wheels racetrack. On the other side of the room, board games and puzzles sat on a table.
For teenagers from the age of 13 to 17, the RCRG provides gift cards.
Orin hopes that this visit to the toy rooms would give his 27 students a concrete and tangible experience of the struggle that many are going through in the city.
“The students were uninformed, or even misinformed, about many of those topics. So I felt the immediate need to go to somewhere in the community that provides these services for people in need,” said Orin, who was born and raised in Steveston.
For some of the students, the discussion and tour around the toy rooms has already made a strong impression.
“It was very eye-opening to see how much low-income poverty there is in Richmond,” said Leilah, one of the students in Orin’s class.
“It’s really interesting to see the hidden poverty we have in our community that many people don’t realize is there.”
Orin and the students have been discussing issues about social welfare programs, and they’ve also looked at how social status economics can affect a person’s education, living conditions, and access to health care.
But the class material can often be too broad or generalized.
“A lot of our curriculum deals with Canada-wide issues or issues addressing specific groups,” said Orin.
“But we gloss over needs in our own community. So that’s definitely something I’m trying to tackle.”
The next class will be a debrief of the visit to the toy rooms, and Orin hopes that the students will come up with their own ideas and suggestions on how they can step in.
Some of the students are already eager to get to work, like Teresa, who says that she would like to begin volunteering when she gets a little older.
“I feel really grateful that we have this in our community, because as a student, I didn’t realize we had poverty (here). This experience actually enlightened me to get more involved with this entire crisis.”