Calgary group fills demand for free school supplies as Albertans struggle with finances

Click to play video 'Calgary group helps fill backpacks with free school supplies amid financial hardships' Calgary group helps fill backpacks with free school supplies amid financial hardships
WATCH: A Calgary group says it has seen a huge need and demand for its free backpacks and school supplies. As Tomasia DaSilva reports, financial experts aren’t surprised – Sep 10, 2020

A Calgary grassroots group is surprised and a little dismayed at the response it has had for free backpacks and school supplies.

Gar Gar launched the School Supply Surprise initiative a couple of months ago. It was designed to fill the need for back-to-school resources — by filling backpacks with free school supplies.

In just one week, he said his group handed out hundreds of free backpacks filled with supplies — many more than expected.

“We targeted it to be 300,” he said. “And then we saw walk-ins. So on the day of the handout, when we were giving them away, there was almost 10-15 families that just walked in.”

“I can confidently say we have hit 375 (backpacks).”

Read more: Alberta school boards appreciate federal funding but some ‘disappointed’ by province’s response

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Financial educators aren’t surprised.

Mark Kalinowski is with the Credit Counselling Society. It provides free credit counselling advice for Canadians struggling with their debt and finances.

“We know that it’s really, really expensive to send kids back to school,” he told Global News.

Kalinowski said from school supplies, to busing costs, clothes, lunches etc. — Alberta parents are feeling the squeeze.

“There’s a lot of stress this year because people don’t have the money they’ve had in previous years,” he added.

“Here in Alberta, we’re especially squeezed because it hasn’t only been the COVID(-19) issue, it’s also been the oil industry.”

What can parents do?

The veteran financial expert suggested parents check their existing school supply inventory, something he did that didn’t please his children.

“They saw the used box of coloured pencils and they’re like ‘ugh,'” he said. “I know that’s important to young kids but we have them here and if money is tight we don’t necessarily need to go rebuy them. Binders the same thing.”

Kalinowski said reusing and recycling also works for things like clothes, which he said don’t have to be bought at high-end retailers.

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“I think we create unreal expectations for our kids. When everything we have has a brand name on it, those kids become dedicated to that brand, that’s all they want and anything else disappoints them.”

“So our budget has to either keeping growing and growing to support this or we have to set expectations upfront,” he added.

Buying expensive electronics

Another must-have item on many student’s lists, especially this year, are electronics like laptops and tablets.

Kalinowski said if you’re buying any new technology, make sure it works with the same system as the school. He also added you don’t need to go expensive when buying for younger children.

“They’re not necessarily equipped to take care of the stuff the way we’d like them to. Sometimes looking at used equipment might save a few dollars.”

For older students, he recommended investing in the extended warranty.

Other money saving tips

Kalinowski suggested parents also work with their children in preparing school lunches.

He added while pre-packaged foods are handy, they’re often not as nutritious. He pointed out buying your own supplies and packaging them yourself can save a lot of money.

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Read more: How to pass healthy money management patterns from parent to child

Calgary group grateful for the support in filling up backpacks with free school supplies
Calgary group grateful for the support in filling up backpacks with free school supplies. Ctsy: Gar Gar

Gar just received 60 new backpacks from Husky Energy to continue to fill the need for some students and parents. He said they will definitely be put to good use, as he still has a waiting list — which he called “worrying.”

“Even with the school started already and for families still saying, ‘Hey I’m still struggling to find backpacks.’ It worries me because those kids have gone to school already. So the question is — what did they go to school with?”

Still he’s grateful to Calgarians for stepping forward.

“That’s the community that we live in. That’s what makes Calgary a special place to live in.”