Agencies stepping up to help Sudbury families fielding inflated back-to-school costs

Inflated prices of everything from backpacks, to shoes are stressing the budgets of Sudbury families as their children head back to the classroom.

Manager of school nutrition program says more families need free breakfast and snacks than in previous years

While classrooms are back to pre-pandemic attendance, record inflation means families are facing higher than ever costs to send students back to school. (The 36th Avenue)

Like many families across the region, a Sudbury single mom says she's happy to see three of her four children leave remote learning behind and get into the classroom.

But inflated prices of everything from backpacks to shoes are stressing her budget. To top it off, Candace Coursol is a full-time student.

She said increased food and gas also have her rethinking how to spend her money.

There's a long list from the school to cover, she said, including indoor and outdoor shoes, backpacks and other supplies.

"Even the school activities, you have to pay for that," she said. "You have to put those into your budget. They have monthly activities, they have pizza days, they have all those things in the school.

"You know, it's just sometimes it just doesn't work into the budget and then, you feel bad because then your kid feels left out."

A chart illustrating the costs of school supplies.
Backpack Buddies estimates the range of costs associated with putting together the supplies that students need as they head back to the classroom for 2022-23. The program run by Brady Storage Solutions stuffed 350 packs to hand out this year. (Submitted by Melanie-Lyne Pelletier/Brady Storage Solutions)

There are groups trying to ease the burden on families now facing costs made worse by the pandemic

Melanie-Lyne Pelletier is with Brady Storage Solutions which helps run the Backpack Buddies program.

This year volunteers stuffed more than 350 school bags with donated lunch bags, toothpaste, toothbrushes, masks, rulers, pens, crayons, markers and calculators.

Pelletier said they found demand outstripped supply earlier than in past years.

For those unable to take advantage of that program, there was more help for families struggling to pay for backpacks and supplies at an elementary school in the Flour Mill neighbourhood of Sudbury.

A surprise awaited about 180 students when they walked through the doors of Queen Elizabeth II Elementary School on the first day of class.

Principal Cori Pitre said corporate donor Costco supplied each and every child with a new backpack containing some school supplies this year.

colourful sacks on hooks in a school corridor
Costco donated backpacks and school supplies to every student at Sudbury's Queen Elizabeth II Elementary on the first day of the 2022 school year. (Facebook/Queen Elizabeth II Elementary School)

Pitre said there were a lot of excited faces as children got to choose from the bags hanging from hooks stretching along the school's corridor.

This kind of donation makes sure no one feels left out, said Pitre, and puts all students on an equal footing to start off the school year.

"I think to many students it was a very bright spot in the beginning of the school year," she said.  "I think all kids like to start school and I would say staff, too, like to start school with a special outfit or some special new school supplies. 

"And if their family was unable to provide it, I'm so pleased that we had the opportunity to do that. So now everybody at Queen Elizabeth had the opportunity to have a brand new backpack, which is pretty special."

I really believe that we made a difference.— Angèle Young, regional manager of the school nutrition program  for Sudbury and Manitoulin

Making sure young minds have the fuel to function in the classroom is a responsibility that Angèle Young takes seriously, and she said it's more challenging with most students back in class

Young is the regional manager of the school nutrition program in Sudbury and Manitoulin that provides a breakfast and snack to every student who wants or needs the food.

With students back to the classroom in pre-pandemic numbers, she is also seeing schools return to full nutrition programs this year after a couple of years of relying on pre-packaged handouts.

She says schools are submitting their funding requests for the coming year and she's discovering they're asking for more than in pre-pandemic times because more students are turning to those programs.

Angèle Young says food programs in Sudbury and Manitoulin schools typically feed about 18,000 children each day. (Student Nutrition Program )

"When you add the cost of food and inflation and the cost of gas and other struggles that families may have, and many are not recovered quite yet from possible lay-offs they may have experienced during the  pandemic, so families are going to rely more on their children being able to access breakfast and snack programs at school which may alleviate their monthly food budgets at home," said Young.

The basic budget for nutrition comes from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, said Young, which doesn't cover the full cost of the program and has routinely had to be supplemented with help from charities and corporate donors.

The ministry provided a statement which says it recognizes the role that nutrition plays in learning and development.

"This year, we are investing $27.9 million in the Student Nutrition Program. We provide this funding to lead agencies to distribute equitably, enabling schools, volunteers, local businesses, parents and charities to work together to provide healthy meals to kids. This includes $3.89 million to North Region, which encompasses Sudbury and Manitoulin." 

Young says she's doing a lot of calculating to make sure the basic amount is distributed fairly and figuring out which other sources she can tap into to buy the necessary food for the programs.

Young says the nutrition program has grown in significance during the pandemic. 

"I really believe that we made a difference," she said. "Having stronger health and more vitamins and minerals in their bodies will help them fight off maybe some of the stuff they may come in contact, and maybe have more days in school than maybe they would have should they not have been eating fruits and vegetables every day."


Kate Rutherford


Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. News tips can be sent to