A project between the Women’s Outreach Centre and United Way of Central Alberta which aims to collect and distribute schools supplies for families across Central Alberta who could not afford their own materials is seeing higher than average demand this year.
Last year the Tools for School program gave out almost 1,600 backpacks filled with basic schools supplies for children in Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Darcy Ouellet, fund development office at Women’s Outreach, said he expects to see the program far surpass the 1,600 mark this fall and edge close to 2,000 with backpacks currently flying off the shelves.
Ouellet worries the program will not have enough backpacks and supplies to fill the needs of children in the area this year and has invited the community to help support the program by donating high demand items.
“Backpacks are our biggest expense,” explained Ouellet. “Last year we cleaned out Walmart and Staples from everything they had at the end of September because that’s when the really good deals are.
“We thought we were doing pretty well but last week we ran out of backpacks,” he said.
Following their dwindled supply of backpacks, Ouellet put out a call to the community via social media and saw a number of local businesses step forward to help gather over 200 backpacks for the program.
“I wasn’t expecting these huge donations, but the community has heard we were in need and they really stepped up to help out,” he said.
“Prior to these big few gifts we were extremely low on donations this year,” he said. “The demand is higher, but the donations are lower due to the economy we are in.”
Ouellet explained depending on the make of the backpack they could range anywhere from $10 to $80, meaning on average it will cost $60 to $70 per child for school supplies.
He added they often see families with anywhere from one up to 10 children.
“It can be like Christmastime in a way – if you have a family living paycheque to paycheque and who has three or four children, where do you come up with an extra $300 for school supplies?
“So something is going to suffer – they’re going to get further behind on paying for things and it just takes them longer to catch up, so if we can help them then that’s what we’re here for,” he said.
The Tools for School program provides four different types of backpacks geared towards students in pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten, Grades 1-5, 6-9, and 10-12 with each age group containing different items in accordance with school supply lists.
While backpacks are currently in the highest demand, other items include binders, crayons, dividers, glue sticks, markers, pencil cases, scissors, highlights, duo tangs, rulers, pencils, pens, coil scribblers, loose leaf paper and erasers.
Ouellet explained Tools for Schools is one of the programs not in the Outreach Centre’s budget and one they do not receive funding for.
“So if we don’t get donations, we don’t have backpacks to hand out.”
Those wishing to donate backpacks or funds to purchase supplies can do so at both Walmart locations, Staples locations, the Outreach Centre, as well as online at www.womensoutreach.ca or you may donate $5 via cell phone by texting ‘OUTREACH” to 45678.
Currently the Women’s Outreach Centre only accepts new, unused items.