The calendar is only just about to flip over to August but already it’s time to start planning for those three little words that will bring a smile to almost any parent’s face: back to school. Of course, paying for those supplies is another matter, as back-to-school shopping has become a multi-million dollar industry that can seem like an impossible financial burden for some families.
That is why Woolwich Community Services has announced its eigth annual backpack program to collect school supplies for low-income families, which will be distributed between Aug. 22 and the Labour Day weekend in preparation for the first day of school on Sept. 6.
“We were finding a lot of families were struggling with income, or lack thereof, and we understood that going back to school can be a very costly period of time for families,” said WCS executive director Don Harloff of the program’s roots.
Statistics Canada reports that this year school supplies could cost the average family about $60 for a Grade 2 student and more than $200 for a Grade 7 or 8 student. WCS aims to reduce that burden through their backpack program which started back in 2003 and has grown from 79 backpacks distributed in the first year to 206 backpacks in 2010.
“We get an outstanding response from the public. All of the items that we put together for the program are donated, so we certainly rely on the public to make those donations for us,” said Harloff, adding that community members can also make cash donations to allow WCS to go out and purchase the supplies themselves.
The success of the program also relies on making back-to-school shopping fun for kids, who might otherwise be upset about the prospect of having to head back to class in the fall. WCS sets up a “store” according to the different grade levels, and children and their parents can come and “shop” for a backpack and supplies to fit their own personality.
“For the little ones going into kindergarten or Grade 1, sometimes the backpack is as big as they are by the time they leave with all their supplies in it,” laughed Harloff.
“There are lots of smiling faces and they are very happy and eager to show off their new backpack.”
Donations have already started coming in for the program, and to qualify families must be considered low-income and live within Woolwich Township or northern Wellesley. Anyone interested in donating to the program can contact Kelly Christie, director of community supports for WCS at (519) 669-5139, or drop off new school supplies at the Woolwich Community Services office at 73 Arthur St. in Elmira.