People wait overnight for free school supplies in Edmonton

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people line up for 'We're Here For Ya Day' to pick up free school supplies in Edmonton on Sunday. Slav Kornik

People lined up for hours, with some spending the night outside, to get free school supplies, access a food hamper, and get haircuts as part of Dan Johnstone’s — Can Man Dan — 11th “We’re Here For Ya Day.”

With school starting back up this week, Johnstone said he’s never seen demand like this before.

“Usually we have people come in at like 6 or 7 a.m. We call those the ‘early birds.’ But this year, we had the late-night birds. They started at 11 p.m. and it was just nuts,” he said.

“If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. But I’m glad that they’re here to get help because that’s what we’re here to do. But also at the same time, it pains me to see this many people because that many people are struggling.”

Trista Van Derslius and her six kids said they waited five hours to get their back-to-school supplies and haircuts.

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Kids get free back-to-school haircuts as part of Edmonton’s We’re Here For Ya Day on Sunday. Slav Kornik

“When you have so many children and you can’t afford too much, either food or school supplies, this is something that’s great,” she said, adding prices have “skyrocketed” and are just not feasible anymore.

Deloitte Consulting Research shows the cost of school supplies has increased by 24 per cent over the past two years, making preparing for the school year even more stressful for parents. It has also increased demand for Johnstone’s initiative, who said that despite his best efforts, he won’t have enough supplies for everyone this year.

“Nothing breaks my heart more than having to turn people away, but we got to come back to reality. We can’t give away stuff that we don’t have,” he said.

COVID-19 affected a lot of local businesses that donated supplies, said Johnstone, and rising inflation has stopped many individual donors from contributing this year as well. It’s been the slowest year for fundraising but the highest year for demand, he said.

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“Donations for these kinds of things should be a priority for our community; these are our kids, we should want to send them back with everything they need, but literally nobody has any money,” the organizer said.

At the end of the day, Johnstone said that all the hard work, including telling some families they won’t receive supplies, is worth it.

“When those kids come out with their fresh hair-dos and their school supplies and their food hamper, parents are crying, the kids are crying because they’re just that grateful. … I get a lot of hugs today and a lot of tears today, and that’s the reward. It warms my heart.”

— with files from Slav Kornik, Global News

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