SUMMERSIDE — Audrey Gee Arsenault feels all children, no matter their circumstances or background, should have equal footing to start the school year.
“If kids can come into school with similar items, it is a great boost in their confidence and acceptance,” said Gee Arsenault, a mother of two young girls. “It is such a nerve-racking experience for children to start in a new classroom as it is. If they are well prepared with supplies I think it will have a great impact.”
That’s why she, along with Chere Kennaugh and Deb Howatt-Gallant, are once again volunteering to collect school supplies to fill backpacks for local children in need.
The women attend Summerside Community Church and, through the group Operation Orphan Care, fundraised in the past to help children in China with medical supplies, warm hats and mittens and various other things.
Last year, it was decided to help children closer to home. Providing backpacks, each filled with paper, scribblers, glue, pencils, crayons and all the other necessities for back to school, immediately came to mind.
That’s how Operation Backpack was born.
Enough supplies were collected last year to fill 222 backpacks for children in kindergarten to Grade 12.
Howatt-Gallant said the outpouring of support was overwhelming.
“We had a lot of different groups of people giving for different reasons. People who have been in a dire position before who are in a position to give now are the ones that are giving,” she added. “They are . . . wanting to help because they were helped.”
This year, the hope is to put together 333 backpacks. Already, 74 have been filled.
“I have been really impressed by the younger generation that have been donating, either students themselves in junior high or high school or young parents,” said Gee Arsenault, who has been collecting items in the Wellington area. “Then we have the other generation that are grandparents in a different stage of their life and are able to donate. They are doing it together with their family.”
She’s seen grandparents drop items off with their grandchildren, adding often they have shopped together to pick up the supplies.
“The kids come in with the backpacks and are so proud to show what they purchased to give,” added Gee Arsenault. “That’s what has really stood out to me.”
Kennaugh said the group gets names from those in need from almost everywhere, including direct contact from struggling parents, from the Salvation Army and organizations like Kids West.
Names are collected and the backpacks distributed with the utmost of discretion and anonymity.
“We also are asking others to speak up for their friends and family,” said Gee Arsenault. “I find that some people don’t necessarily want to ask themselves.”
She added that the hope is to partner with teachers and resource personnel at area schools to ensure that all those who need it get help, are helped.
Howatt-Gallant said some started collecting sale items as early as last fall, adding those wanting to help don’t necessarily have to drop off a backpack of supplies.
Donations can be anything from a few packages of pencils to filled backpacks or even monetary donations for those uncertain of what to buy.
“Some families have chosen to get a list and fill it . . . which is awesome,” said Howatt-Gallant. “Those are the bags we don’t have to pack and are all ready to go.”
A list of items needed is on the group’s Facebook page, which also includes the names and numbers of those accepting donations. The page is also where questions can be posed or items can be added to the growing list of school supplies needed.
Unlike last year, volunteers will pack and distribute backpacks as they go.
Howatt-Gallant hand-delivered many of the backpacks last year. She said the reaction and response was, at times, overwhelming.
“Most say just how great of a help it was for them because they are also trying to purchase sneakers and clothing.”
Deadline for donations is Aug. 31.
How to help
— Items needed: new backpacks, pencil cases; lunch bags, packages of No. 2 pencils, packages of blue ballpoint and red ballpoint pens, loose leaf paper, highlighters, single composition spiral notebooks, glue sticks, three-ring binders, pencil sharpeners, calculators, coloured pencils, duo tangs, rulers, erasers, report covers, crayons, scissors.
— For more information, pickup or delivery please contact:
- Chere Kennaugh - 303-3154 Tyne Valley area
- Debz Howatt-Gallant - 436-2823 Summerside area
- Janet Boulter - 954-0643 Crapaud area
- Audrey Gee Arsenault - 954-0313 Wellington area
- Julie Taylor - 314-9875 Kensington area
- Melanie McEwen - 436-6574 Summerside area
— To learn more about Operation Backpack, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/661495700604733/?ref=br_tf.