By Jessica Lovell
This week, thousands of local kids are packing their backpacks and book bags and heading back to school. But hundreds of those kids are relying on donations in order to walk into school with a bag filled with the same binders, pens and pencil crayons as their classmates.
While for some parents sending kids back to school is a relief, others face this time of year with anxiety that they will not be able to afford the school supplies their children need. To ease this anxiety, backpack donation programs have become a regular part of the back-to-school season. But with a number of organizations getting in on the donation game, efforts may not be as co-ordinated as they could be.“It would be good to have a conversation about what each (organization) is doing,” said Michelle Pilgrim, a community development worker with Family and Children’s Services.
Pilgrim has co-ordinated a local backpack drive through the city’s neighbourhood groups, Family and Children’s Services, and TD Canada Trust for the past two years. But she knows theirs isn’t the only such program, and she’d like to see the program providers working together.
“We want to make sure we provide as many supports as possible to as many families as possible,” Pilgrim said.
When Christmas time comes around, Pilgrim also works on a local Christmas hamper program for families in need. Hamper providers are invited to be part of a hamper bureau that allows them to share resources, to ensure that families get what they need and get equivalent hampers, and to prevent duplication of efforts.
“That would be the model that backpack providers could follow,” said Pilgrim.
But so far, this backpack donation bureau has not been formed.
Last year, Pilgrim met with representatives from Lakeside Church and the Salvation Army – two other local organizations that run backpack drives – with such a collaboration in mind, but those three were the only organizations that got together, and they didn’t meet this year.
“I know that there are others out there that we are not aware of,” Pilgrim added.
One such organization is the 1 Stone Road Social/Charity Committee, a group that organizes social and charitable events for employees of the building at 1 Stone Rd.
This year, the group filled around 100 donated bags with school supplies, giving half to the local public school board and half to the Catholic school board.
“It’s just something we took it upon ourselves to do,” said Kathie Noble, an administrative service representative with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, located in the building.
Normally, the group does an annual backpack donation through Sleep Country, which also collects backpacks, she said. But this year, they chose to do something different, because they were offered a donation of bags from Galaxy Cinemas. They contacted the school boards to see if they could use the donations before they went ahead with the plan, said Noble.
The group, which is involved in a variety of charity initiatives, would value working with others on the backpack drive, she said. “We would love to have that contact.”
But one of the barriers to bringing the backpack providers together is having someone who is willing to organize the collaboration.
“We would need somebody to take the lead to pull that together,” said Pilgrim, noting “everybody has a shortage of time and energy.”
She recognizes, though, that working together could save some time and energy.
“If we collaborate we could also share volunteer efforts,” she said.
When she met with Lakeside and the Salvation Army, sharing resources was one of the things they talked about. They also discussed how they promote the drives and collect donations, as well as what each organization puts into its bags to make it fair.
“Ideally, each child would have all the tools they need to be successful in school and to have a positive school experience,” Pilgrim said.
The people who collect donations can struggle to do so during the summer months, she said. But as school approaches, the stress increases for parents as they worry about whether their kids will have what they need to go back.
Nothing will eliminate that stress for parents, and whether they collaborate or not it will still be a scramble for backpack providers to match donations to need, said Pilgrim. But working together would provide an opportunity to look for ways to make sure the programs are fair and the providers make the best use of the donations they receive, she said.
“I think it’s at the point where it would be nice to bring all the providers together and just have a discussion,” she said.