Most high school students who miss one-third of their classes in a year would find themselves repeating the same grade.
But Brady Lumsden of Walnut Grove Secondary completed Grade 11 with a 90 per cent average, despite — on more than one occasion — missing as many as 12 days of school in a single month.
Instead of attending class, he was travelling to downtown Vancouver to give speeches and presentations, and attend conferences and networking events to promote a cause close to his heart, Weekend Fuelbag.
The Langley-based charity, which Lumsden started with his cousins Emma and Katrina Schulz two years ago, provides meals to high school and middle school students on the weekends, when regular school breakfast programs do not run.
Luckily, Lumsden’s teachers were understanding.
“It’s really the idea of working smart, not working hard,” Lumsden said when asked how he got away with skipping so many classes.
“The main factor in any relationship — whether that be a personal relationship or a relationship between student and teacher — is communication. I told all of my teachers what’s going on. I said, ‘Here is what I’m doing. Is there anyway I can actually incorporate what I am doing and turn it around into a grade for you?’ If I had to type up an essay about what Weekend Fuelbag is, and about the impact we make and about what poverty in B.C. looks like, then I could easily put that essay on my website after I gave it to them to grade.”
Weekend Fuelbag currently provides 80 students in Langley with bags of food to take home every weekend of the year. The non-profit is partnered with the Langley School District Foundation, and in the summer months, the students are given two months of weekend food bags upfront.
Each bag includes two breakfasts, two lunches, snacks, drinks and fruit. The entire program is anonymous, with only the students’ principals and counsellors aware of who is enrolled.
Lumsden spent this past summer campaigning to raise $100,000 to grow the program. With the extra funding, he hopes to serve an additional 35 youth who are on the wait-list for the program, and increase the amount of food allotted in each bag.
And when he wasn’t campaigning, he was in summer school completing Grade 12 courses in advance so that he can free up his timetable this September to do even more charity work.
“Generally, it’s not just one student we’re feeding, it’s a family we are feeding,” Lumsden said. “And things like a box of cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, fruit, a loaf of bread — which we all give now — could easily feed a family for hopefully more than a weekend as well.”
Lumsden felt compelled to create the charity after learning that one of his own friends often went home to empty cupboards. Having lived oversees in Vietnam as a child, he has seen poverty before, but had no idea it existed in Langley as well.
“Vietnam is a very Third World and impoverished country, and everywhere you looked you could see poverty — it was everywhere. But to a nine-year-old, I was thinking, ‘Why are they there? Why are the people I’m playing basketball with going and begging on the streets later in the day?’ That kind of question of why, and needing to know more, is what drove me to learn more about poverty in general. And then when I moved back to Canada, I realized it’s a huge, huge, huge problem here as well.”
B.C. children made up 22 per cent of all British Columbians living in poverty in 2015, despite comprising only 18 per cent of the province’s total population, the report says.
In Metro Vancouver, 368 children were identified as homeless in the 2017 homeless count, including 201 youth under the age of 19, and 185 between the ages of 19 and 24.
But Lumsden says most people he speaks to have no idea child poverty is an issue.
“And that’s the difference between poverty in a First World country, and poverty in a Third World country,” Lumsden said.
“We have the social services that provide just enough money to make the problem invisible. So when people tell me these stories about the hardships they go through, or the suffering that exists in Canada, and I look outside and I don’t see any of that — it’s not visible at all. I know that, personally, I need to do something to raise awareness about that problem.
“Because if everybody in Langley knows that 20 per cent of kids in Langley are going home hungry, the community would step up and raise money and raise food so that they don’t have to go home hungry. But the problem is, nobody knows.”
Some of the stories Lumsden has heard about students living in poverty in Langley have been heartbreaking. In one case, a 17-year-old said he had to hide his bags of food so his parents wouldn’t take them away from him.
Another student had a parent who became terminally ill and could no longer work, sending the family into an impoverished state. They ended up moving in with another family that was not doing financially well, either. That student received two bags of food every weekend to feed both families in the household.
And not long ago, Lumsden was approached by a single mom who wanted to thank him for running the program. Having lost her job, she was having a hard time making ends meet, and said that the little bit of food on the weekends made a big difference for her family.
“A good quote I heard the other day was, ‘One person may not be able to change the world, but everyone can change somebody’s world.’ And every single person in the community knows that, but the thing they don’t know is that the need is there,” Lumsden said.
“Whenever I hear that ‘thank you,’ or that ‘this is going such a long way, Weekend Fuelbag is doing so much for my family,’ that’s what drives me to keep going and to keep working at my goal of hopefully one day ending this problem.”
For more information on Weekend Fuelbag, visit www.weekendfuelbag.ca.