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United Way backpack program on track to see requests hit 4,000

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It’s not even halfway through the summer yet and the local United Way has already received nearly as many requests for its backpack program as it did during last year’s entire campaign.

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Sarah Raynsford, co-ordinator of the United Way of Bruce Grey program, said about 2,110 backpacks have been requested so far – about double the number of requests received by this point in 2019. A total of 2,308 requests were filled by Labour Day 2019.

Raynsford said the agency is prepared to receive 4,000 requests for backpacks, which are filled with age-appropriate and essential school supplies and provided to Grey-Bruce students of low-income families, by Labour Day.

The surge in demand is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“A lot of people have lost their jobs, a lot of people have lost their income.”

Raynsford said area students will still require the school supplies for September regardless of what classroom learning will look like.

“There’s going to be some form of school. Whether it’s online, blended learning or fully in school, the kids are still going to need their pencil to do their work; they’re still going to have work. Even if it’s just colouring or writing their name, they will still need paper and supplies to do that,” she said.

Students have been out of school since March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The province has asked school boards to prepare three plans for September – full-time, in-class teaching with prevention measures in place; full-time remote learning; and a hybrid model that combines the two.

Raynsford said in addition to regular supplies, this year’s backpacks will each include two reusable face masks. Staples is supplying the masks, which are being funded by both Grey and Bruce counties.

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The United Way is appealing to the public for help to meet this year’s anticipated surge in demand for backpacks.

Raynsford said the best way to help is by donating money because the agency can purchase supplies at wholesale prices. Financial donations can be made online at donatetoday.ca, by calling 519-376-1560 or mailing a cheque to the United Way office at 380 9th St. E., Owen Sound, ON, N4K 1P1.

A School Supply Drive is also underway and will continue until Aug. 10. People can drop off new school supplies at Heritage Place Shopping Centre, which is where Raynsford and volunteers have been busy stuffing the backpacks.

The drop-off area is down the hall from Leon’s and is surrounded by a white picket fence.

Raynsford said a Stuff the Bus drive is also planned for Aug. 20 to 22 at Staples.

People can request a backpack by calling 211.

The local United Way backpack program first launched in 2005 and has provided more than 25,000 backpacks over the years to children in Grey-Bruce.

By providing school supplies to low-income children, the United Way says it is providing the tools needed to start off the year on the right foot. The agency says it has heard from teachers who say the program helps to take bullying out of their classrooms.

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