Cheer Crates support vulnerable families in Saskatoon during coronavirus pandemic

Atticus Marcotte has been asking his mom for some chalk to draw on their apartment balcony and next week, he’ll get his wish.

The five-year-old and his mother, Desiree, are one of 500 families receiving a Cheer Crate, an initiative from Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation (SPSF) to support families during the pandemic.

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The coronavirus pandemic is hard on everyone, but it’s especially hard on kids, according to Desiree Marcotte, a Saskatoon resident.

“It’s pretty difficult with parks closed and the socialization aspect as well,” she said. “Getting to spend time with friends and interact, the fun activities that you can’t really do at home.”

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Chalk might seem like a small thing to most people, but for Atticus, drawing is an outlet for his creativity.

“He’s kind of a little artist, he loves to draw everything,” his mom said.

“Usually every year he just kind of colours the whole [balcony] and then the cats roll around it and we have pink cats for a while,” she added with a laugh.

COVID-19 has impacted those most vulnerable in our community, said SPSF executive director Zeba Ahmad.

“Our schools are closed and these students and their families who rely on additional supports are in great need.”

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Marcotte said knowing she doesn’t have to go it alone helps.

“It’s really nice, especially during these times, to know that there’s a community support network,” Marcotte said.

“As a single parent, it’s pretty easy to feel isolated and alone in times like this.”

The Cheer Crates have food, supplemental educational lessons and everyday necessities.

“There’s books, there’s workbooks, there’s colouring books, the June crate is going to have a scavenger hunt in it,” Ahmad said.

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And chalk for Atticus.

“I know the chalk is going to be a big-ticket item because he’s been asking for chalk for a week,” Marcotte said.

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Ahmad said support from the community has been “heartwarming.”

That includes a $25,000 donation from Nutrien for food in the first crate.

“They knew that we were helping these families in very essential ways, so that meant a lot to them,” Ahmad said, adding it goes beyond companies who have reached out offering to help.

“We’ve had teachers… we’ve had retired teachers donating, we’ve had community members,” Ahmad said.

“There’s one principal who said, ‘I’ve been chomping at the bit to be able to reach out to our families and they want to deliver the crate so that they can have a touchpoint with their families and students.”

Marcotte is hopeful Atticus’s kindergarten teacher will deliver the crate to him on May 12.

“He’s really been missing school and his teacher and all his friends,” she explained.

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“So I think it’ll really brighten up his day to see her and then get all the stuff inside.”

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Ahmad said Cheer Crates could extend beyond June.

“If the support is there, we’ll continue to prepare and deliver out crates throughout the summer,” she said.

“How great would that be for kids in the summer who are looking for things to do because schools are their safe place.”

“It’s where many of these kids get their only meals of the day.”

Marcotte is thankful there are community support networks during these times.

“There’s a lot of single parents and lower-income people, and it gets really difficult for everyone right now,” she said.

“I just think it’s really great the way that the community’s been pulling together across the cities to bring these little moments of togetherness and comfort and happiness.”

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