Willway elementary principal Jane Penn shows off student comfort kits prepared by parents in the event of a natural disaster.

Willway elementary principal Jane Penn shows off student comfort kits prepared by parents in the event of a natural disaster.

Finding comfort in disaster

Toys stocked alongside food for school emergency preparedness

Toys stocked alongside food for school emergency preparedness

Should disaster strike during the school day, Willway elementary kids at least will have some comforts of home.

The school grounds hosts a large metal storage container, the go-to spot for resources such as blankets and toys — essential gear for young kids traumatized by an earthquake, for instance.

Part of the emergency resources are small personalized kits of love assembled by a child’s parents.

Kits include such practical items as non-perishable food and foil blankets. But usually in the mix are treasures of emotional comfort, such as favourite toys, candy, family photos and stuffed animals.

“If there is a tragedy then (students) have a photo and a stuffy,” said Willway principal Jane Penn.

Willway school has had equipment in case of emergency for years, but Penn introduced individual student comfort kits about three years ago, when she joined the school.

“I just enhanced the program,” she said.

A former master corporal in the army and trained in emergency preparedness — “I was trained to live in the bush and to build shelters,” she says — Penn knows the importance of having all manner of emergency gear in place.

She was teaching at a school in the Philippines in 1989 when an earthquake struck. She recalls the ground shaking and evacuating her students from the building.

“It wakes you up,” Penn said. “What happened in Japan has put this in the forefront for me. Hopefully we never to use this, but if we do I feel we are prepared to take care of the children.”

About 80 per cent of Willway students have brought comfort kits to school, and she’d like to get that up to 100 per cent.

Alongside toys and comfort kits, the emergency container holds enough food, mostly Kraft dinner and granola bars, to feed 200 students for one day.

The Willway parent advisory council bought most of the supplies including flashlights, first aid kits, tarps, axes, ropes and a barbecue.

“We really are on the fault line,” Penn said.

More than half of the elementary schools on the West Shore also run a comfort kit program including Colwood, Crystal View, David Cameron, Sangster, Happy Valley and Wishart.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com