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With classes resuming in a few weeks, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold is reminding people to donate to its back-to-school program to help provide backpacks and school supplies for families who might not be able to afford them.

Community Care has been providing children with pens, notebooks and healthy snacks since the early 2000s.

About that time Ontario Works changed how school needs funding was provided, spreading it out over the year instead of a lump sum in August, said Betty-Lou Souter, Community Care chief executive officer.

“Parents weren’t expecting that, so they were caught off guard,” she said.

“If you split it up over the year, with people who are really struggling to make ends meet, you’re not going to have the ability to save it ’til the next year.”

Since then, the back-to-school program has been helping children feel more like they fit in by providing school supplies, shoes and other things needed for their academic year.

This year, things have changed, said Souter, with supply chain issues and a lack of back-to-school supplies impacting access for families depending on the program.

More than 1,200 children were helped last year through the program. Organizers expect that number to be at least 1,300 this year, in part due to inflation.

Community Care is asking people who would like to access the program to pre-register to be sure every child needing supplies has what’s needed before the first day of school.

“They’ll be given an appointment time to come down and volunteers will be there, then children will get their backpacks filled with school supplies and shoes and gift card for snacks,” she said.

Children aged four to 18 will have access to the program and be able to choose from several backpacks filled with supplies, which vary depending on age.

“Around 11 years old and under we pack junior supplies, pencil crayons, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, little notebooks, water bottles and lunch bags,” said Community Care’s Danielle Cook.

Younger kids prefer fun, character-themed backpacks, she said.

“We try to get all the fun characters like ‘Paw Patrol’ or whatever the latest, greatest for backpacks is, is what we try to give them the option of,” she said.

Canadian Tire helps by donating the shoes, said Cook, but extra shoes are always needed above and beyond what is donated.

Money is always the best donation, said Souter, because of its bulk buying power.

“We try to be as economical as we possibly can to make our money go further,” she said.

At the end of the day, she said, “We just want to make sure every child is treated with some dignity and respect.”