School supplies putting a dent in Windsor-Essex parents' wallets
'Some people take for granted a simple backpack and some school supplies'
Last week, a majority of Windsor-Essex students returned to the classroom, some sporting new backpacks and back-to-school apparel after 18 months of flip flopping between in-class learning and virtual schooling.
While many parents may have wanted to send their children back to school wearing the latest fashion and prepared with the most up-to-date school supplies, some Windsor-Essex parents are struggling to provide those essentials for their kids.
Julie Boucher, a mother of six children, said she invested more money on back-to-school shopping this year due to increased prices, yet she planned ahead by buying in bulk and seeking out sales for supplies, clothing and footwear months in advance.
"Backpacks in the mall are $70 to $80. I'm sorry, that is, to me, ridiculous for a backpack," Boucher said.
Boucher and her husband Scott lost work due to COVID-19. Boucher's business as a wedding and event planner took a hard hit from cancellations, reduced guests lists and lockdowns while her husband, who worked two full-time jobs, was given reduced hours.
She said their wallets felt a tighter pinch this year during back to school shopping.
"Just the cost in binders and paper and markers and mechanical pencils, I've seen a huge price rise," she said.
Boucher estimated she spent at least $300 on school supplies - excluding shoes, clothing and lunch boxes - for three of her four school-aged children.
Some of the rising costs have been linked to inflation.
This past July, Statistics Canada reported the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 3.7 per cent which was the highest increase seen since 2011.
The increase was seen across the country, ranging from furniture, durable goods, cars and food.
The struggle to afford necessary school supplies is reflected by United Way's "Backpacks for Success Drive".
This year 2,000 backpacks and $15,000 worth of Staples gift cards were handed out to families over three days. The charity was able to double its initial target, but many families were still left empty-handed.
"It wasn't enough," Lorraine Goddard, CEO of United Way Windsor-Essex said.
"I think it's really indicative of what's happening in our community, the need out there for this kind of support."
The drive for the backpacks was held at six different schools between Aug. 24 and Aug. 26. Goddard said most of the backpacks were given out shortly after opening due to early lineups and huge demand.
She estimated the organization needed at least 50 per cent more of the backpacks in order to meet the number of families who needed them.
While organizations like United Way have tried to increase support for families during the pandemic, Goddard said more two-income families have expressed a need for support. She attributed it to the rising expenses and layoffs due to the pandemic.
"We're seeing families who traditionally haven't needed this support having to access it. So we're definitely seeing the increase," she said.
Boucher echoed the sentiment.
She said she has not participated in the "Backpacks for Success Drive" or any other charitable drive due to a fear of taking away from others who need it.
"I feel bad," she said. "It's not just everybody who doesn't have two incomes, everybody is struggling."
Mike Clark, manager of public relations for the Windsor Essex Children's Aid Society (WECAS) understands the pressure parents feel around back to school shopping.
"There are parents that really want to provide for their child, they really want to do the best they can and financially, they just, in many cases, they don't have the means to do these extra types of things," he said.
'It's a big thing'
Each year WECAS runs a backpack drive for those affiliated with the organization. This year, 904 backpacks were given out to children and youth.
According to Clark, referrals are given to WECAS through teachers, external agencies and community members in order to receive a backpack. Due to COVID, they did not receive as many referrals.
"There's probably more out there that have a need, but we are not totally aware of it at this point," Clark said.
Sarah Harrison, a single mother with two children, said she finds back to school shopping to be stressful.
"Kids don't understand the concept of money yet, especially at the age of my children where they just think money grows on trees, so that is difficult because you want to be able to get everything that your child expects to have on that first day of school but you can't always accomplish that," Harrison said.
Harrison works as an office administrator for a residential appraisal service. When the public health restrictions were put in place, her hours were cut as was her income.
Similar to Boucher, Harrison said she spent more money this year on back-to-school supplies, but had she known about the "Backpacks for Success Drive" she said would have gone to it.
"I feel if more people knew about it, then I think they would use that resource for sure," she said.
According to Mike Clark, "it's a big thing" for a student to come to school prepared with a new backpack.
"Some people take for granted a simple backpack and some school supplies. It's not simple for a lot. It's a big thing."