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B.C. teachers’ strike puts pressure on public services

Jacky Mah, left, day program leader, plays with kids at the Strathcona Community Centre in Vancouver on Monday.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

At the Strathcona Community Centre in Vancouver, staff are working extra shifts and a breakfast program has been expanded so that scores of school-aged children who come to the centre each day can have healthy food and access to supervised activities.

As negotiators meet behind closed doors in talks that could end the B.C. teachers' strike, ripple effects of the dispute continue to spread, hitting everything from community centres to fundraisers for cancer.

"For a lot of the kids, the school is not just a place of education. It's a social safety net," Strathcona Community Centre director Ron Suzuki said on Monday. "We are in a reactive mode – we can't plan, we have to react if children show up."

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(Connect with our B.C. teachers' strike live blog for the latest updates on the strike.)

The community centre is next to Lord Strathcona Elementary, which the Vancouver School Board noted in a February report has the second-highest concentration of poverty among inner-city schools.

Last year, more than 400 children signed up for a hot lunch program at the school and similar numbers were expected this year, Mr. Suzuki said.

With school not in session, those lunches aren't available. As a stop-gap, the Strathcona Community Centre expanded an existing breakfast program to provide snacks – including fruits and vegetables – throughout the day to children who drop in.

Community donors, including a local produce company, have pitched in to help, but the strike still means added costs for the community centre, Mr. Suzuki said, estimating that 100 or more children have been coming to the centre each day school has not been in session.

The centre's gymnasium is currently under renovation, meaning some programs, including a mother-and-tot drop-in and an adult fitness class, have been bumped to make room for children's activities, Mr. Suzuki said.

Other community centres have also expanded their offerings.

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The West Point Grey Community Centre is offering skimboarding camps for children between the ages of six and 13. The camps are typically only available during July and August, but are being offered in September to give parents another option during the teachers' strike.

The Creekside Community Centre is offering a weeklong Minecraft video game camp, which costs $290 a week.

Community centres, including Coal Harbour, Britannia and Kitsilano, are offering day camps, many of which have waiting lists.

The Park Board recognizes "some community centres and neighbourhoods may be more stressed than others in coping with the teachers strike," Thomas Soulliere, director of recreation at the Park Board, said in an e-mailed statement.

"The Park Board and our community centre partners are doing our best to ensure that all centres have adequate resources to cope with the extra load – and that these extra services do not have an impact on regular programming and services when the strike ends."

The strike is also a worry for the Canadian Cancer Society, which on Monday said its annual Cops for Cancer cycling fundraiser will be pinched because participants in the event will not be able to make school visits.

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In the fundraiser, which has taken place each fall in B.C. since 1997, police officers and emergency service personnel take part in tours at several locations around the province to raise funds for pediatric cancer research and support programs. School visits are part of the event.

The school program was expected to generate about $350,000, or about 15 per cent, of expected revenues for this year's event, Sheila Dong, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Cancer Society, B.C. and Yukon Division, said in an e-mail.

The society has asked the public to donate online or attend local fundraisers to help offset the impact of the strike.

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