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‘Bag to School’ says education professor

By Heidi Wicks

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the Staples commercials chime, but this slogan holds a whole new meaning to Faculty of Education professor Dr. Jean Brown.

Dr. Brown has been combining her love of education with her activity in Cochrane Street United Church for the past three years, with a program called Bag to School. The program ties the church to the Bridges to Hope program, which is a food aid centre that brings food and toys to children in need.

“For the past three years, the Bridges to Hope food bank was housed in our church,” Dr. Brown explained, “and we’ve been packing 100 school bags with school supplies and giving them to Bridges to Hope for their clients. What we did, was we got the list from schools of what parents were expected to provide for their children to send them to school, and we were appalled at how much it cost.”

When the church didn’t have the funds to make their regular contribution this year, Derek Winsor, program director for Bridges to Hope, decided to step up to the plate.

“VOCM is sponsoring the program this year,” Mr. Winsor said. “So I made a call to Randy Simms, who made his own pledge to the program, and it just snowballed from there. The (Premier Danny) Williams Family made a significant contribution, as did other businesses around the city, university professors, and individuals.”

Dr. Brown is thrilled at the sudden green increase.

“We didn’t have as much money as other years,” she said. “And we were talking about the high cost of fuel, which may be making it more difficult for people who normally contribute. We didn’t know what we were going to do, because people are registered (to receive the bags), they were expecting it, and we just didn’t have the bags. VOCM were sponsoring but they wouldn’t have had the money in time. It’s great news! We did up a master order from Staples to determine what we needed to buy, and just did one big shop, it was great!”

Mr. Winsor concurred.

“Most of the parents are all very thankful that we have such a program in place, because the majority find it very difficult to come up with the 30 or 40 dollars to pack the bags. Actually on their own it costs about 50 dollars to pack a child’s school bag for the start of the school year.”

Other organizations, such as the Women’s Centre and the Single Parent Organization operate similar programs to meet the needs of families, and Bridges to Hope consults with their list of registered families to ensure that there are no duplicates. Bags are provided for both primary/elementary and high school kids. About 125 bags were distributed to parents on Tuesday, Sept. 2.