Nova Scotia·Q&A

Shopping for school? Food bank wants you to grab extra supplies

The Halifax based food and furniture bank expects to distribute over 1,100 backpacks to families this year, more than last year.

Parker Street in Halifax looking for donated backpacks, paper, writing tools and other essentials

The Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax is collecting school supplies that will be packed into backpacks and distributed to families who need them. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

High inflation is making it more difficult for many families to get the school supplies their children need for the upcoming school term.

Inflation in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island is between nine and 11 per cent, more than the national average of eight per cent.

The Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax distributes backpacks with school supplies every year to families who need them. 

Denise Daley is executive director of Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax . (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Denise Daley, the executive director of the non-profit, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon guest host Brett Ruskin the demand for backpacks this year is well ahead of last year.

This is a condensed version of their conversation that has been edited for clarity and length.

The Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax distributes backpacks with school supplies to families every year to families that need them. Denise Daley, the executive director tells the CBC's Brett Ruskin the demand for backpacks this year is well ahead of last year.

Are we seeing more families reaching out for help with the school supplies season in full swing? 

We definitely are.

Our goal this year was to provide families with 1,000 filled backpacks because last year we handed out over 900. However, since the close of our applications period on Aug. 12, we've had 619 applications thus far, and that's already surpassed the 1,000 mark when we look at the individual backpacks that the families will be getting. 

So you've had 619 or so families who have put in applications for backpacks, but there's more than one child in some of those families? 

That is correct.

To date, we have 1,165 confirmed backpacks. We will have to cap it soon, but we'll try to reach as many families as possible. 

It sounds like the demand is higher this year. Without going into too many details about individual families, but generally, what type of financial situations are these families in? 

It is true the demand is much higher this year — approximately a 40 per cent increase in clientele.

Our clientele is no income, fixed income or low income families. These families are in a financial crunch, a financial bind. So, in a bid to alleviate these issues, Parker Street has instituted some of these programs.

Our Back-to-School program is one such program families look forward to, because they get that ease from thinking about back to school supplies.

Applications are normally open from June 1 so families will apply early, and then they can be assured that we have these taken care of so they can divert their money to bills or additional food and so on, because inflation is taking a toll on our clients as well. 

The decisions being made around the kitchen table is between food, perhaps power bills or school supplies. I'm guessing school supplies would be, unfortunately, the first one to be cut from those budgets.

Is that is that what's happening with the clients and the families you're speaking with? 

That is the case.

If it comes down to, 'What do I choose to use this money to buy?' school supplies would be the third priority.

With that in mind, we have this program. So that takes care of that aspect of your budgeting.

We also have other programs that help if they're in a crunch. We have our emergency fund; they can apply for that to pay certain bills.

We try to look at those effects and see how can we help families in our community during their hard times. 

Amgad Zack and Sonah Leahey of the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank stuff hundreds of backpacks with school supplies during their 2021 drive. (Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank)

As for school supplies, what types of things do you give out to families? 

For school supplies, backpacks, loose leaf [paper], writing tools — pens, pencils, crayons, highlighters — calculators, geometry sets.

Anything school related, we collect it, and then we pack our backpacks based on grade level, from Grade 1 all the way to university-aged students.

We try to get as many of the school supplies they need as possible. This is based on our supply, of course, and our donations that we've received.

As of this point, it sounds like you have just enough or you may not have enough. Do you need people to help?

We do need help. We have enough for the 1,000; however, we still have 290 applications going through, which will mean approximately 500 more backpacks to be filled.

We need more supplies to come in and then we can make more backpacks and reach more families. Otherwise, after that 1,200, families will be placed on a wait list.

How can people get involved? Is it a matter of picking up an extra binder, picking up some extra pencils and sending them your way? 

That's exactly what we're looking for. When you're shopping, just grab some extra stuff for Parker Street and our clients. You can grab your binders, your pencils, whatever you have, and keep us in mind.

You can then drop it off at 2415 Maynard Street or our thrift store locations at 344 Herring Cove Road in Spryfield or 110 Woodlawn Road in Dartmouth.

You can also reach out to us and we'll make arrangements to pick it up if you can't make it here.

We'll also have our 5k walk-run at Point Pleasant Park this Sunday, Aug. 21, from 8 p.m., and we'll be there collecting supplies as well and donations for back to school. You can also donate monetary donations online.

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With files from Maritime Noon

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