As the school season approaches, parents are being reminded to stock up on their children’s school supplies, but for those in need, purchasing expensive school supplies can become a challenge.
The Women of Steel (WOS), an organization run through the Sparwood United Steelworkers, is responding to this challenge with their Back To School Backpack Campaign, a campaign that is currently in its fourth year.
This year, 73 backpacks were filled to the brim with school supplies for kids in need. The money comes from fundraising and donations to the WOS.
A bus-stop barbeque and generous donations from the Rocky Mountain Meats, the Fernie District Arts Council and the Elk Valley Thrift Shop Society brought in over $5,000 to the WOS.
WOS co-chair Sarah Thompson said that the campaign has been well received every year and that “the need [for school supplies] has been overwhelming”, with the demand seemingly going up with each passing year.
The WOS hand-deliver the backpacks to schools across the Elk Valley, reaching Fernie, Sparwood, the Crownest Pass and Jaffray. School counselors across the area are also given the remainder of supplies, to distribute to kids who need them.
“Sometimes kids will come in the first day and they won’t have everything or some don’t have anything,” explained Thompson.
Charitable foundations like Toys For Tots in Sparwood, the Crowsnest Pass Food Bank and the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre also benefit from the backpacks.
Nicky Banzie, an outreach worker at the resource centre said, “We have a society here that works with families that are in need of extra services. We never ask for a financial cut off, it’s just for people who recognize they have that need.”
The WOS cater every backpack to the grade and school that the child is in, from students in kindergarten to grade 12. It’s a “well-oiled machine” operation at this point, laughed Thompson who went shopping for the supplies with co-chair Jen Schlender.
“They just pull a list out of the backpack and fill it accordingly and put it to where it needs to go. It works well,” said Thompson.
vital service these women provide to the community isn’t lost on anyone.
“The Women of Steel should be commended for the work that they do,” said Alex Hanson, President of United Steel Workers Local 9346. “When poverty reaches the next generation and affects kids and their access to education, something should be done.”