Charity helping students return to school says ‘need is as great as it’s ever been’

A high-profile children’s charity now celebrating ten years in action is rallying the community to help prepare youngsters for the return to school.

Generous sponsors and ordinary members of the public have begun pitching in for Gina Spence Productions and the charity was gifted a van thanks to the firm Happy Van Imports in tandem with Hamilton Rotary Club.

Ms Spence said the grassroots group was looking to help “close to 1,250 children” return to the classroom next month with fresh uniforms and bags.

“Over the last ten years we have served more than 10,000 children, which is something to celebrate,” she said.

She added: “I was very surprised, looking at the data in our records, at the number of children, which averaged 800 to 1,200 per year.”

The activist, whose charity includes a Champions Programme for youngsters grieving in the aftermath of violence, told The Royal Gazette: “What we are seeing now is the real aftereffects of Covid.

“Yes, people are back to work; yes, we can move out and about again. But a lot of people never really caught themselves.

“We’re seeing more people requesting help with school uniforms. The need is as great as it’s ever been – we have never seen a decrease.”

The GSP website allows families to register for help and accepts nominations of needy families.

This year’s projection means the charity has an ambitious target of $186,000 in donations.

But Ms Spence said the community and sponsors were up to the challenge: fundraising, which launched this week, has a deadline of August 27.

The department store Gibbons Company has partnered with her charity for the sponsorship campaign that covers a full uniform along with a backpack.

One Communications, Conyers, Chub, Deloitte and Mediaville are also on board as sponsors.

The final day for donations of “gently used” items to the Gibbons children’s department is August 24.

As Ms Spence spoke with the Gazette, a call came in from a senior mourning the death of her husband this year but who still wanted to donate shoes for children.

Ms Spence said the kindness of ordinary people looking to help had been “an inspiration”, with $19,306 raised by yesterday and 270 families registered since the website went live on Monday.

“The way a child looks when they go into school has a lot to do with how they perform in school,” she said.

“Our motto for this anniversary is `ten years of getting children dressed for educational success’.”

There is no typical portrait of the family in need, she said.

“It’s private school students, public school, preschoolers. It’s just all across the board.

“A lot of our families are not on social assistance. People are working but what they make isn’t enough to cover these costs. We’re also seeing a lot of seniors helping with their grandchildren, people that have retired putting in their own resources to help.

“Last time we checked, the cost for everything from school clothes, gym clothes, school bags and everything a child needs, was between $700 and $800.”

The charity also provides gift cards to cover back to school purchases.

Ms Spence said her group would be swamped without the help of Gibbons Company and its staff.

She added: “They are phenomenal – every year, on top of providing these economical packages for school clothes, they give $1,000 of help to families we have identified that have at least three to four children in a household and need help.”

They include families who have lost their homes to fire, or cases where as many as eight children have lost their mother to cancer.

To mark the ten-year anniversary, Gibbons will provide ten needy families with $1,000 gift certificates.

Ms Spencer also has a team of nearly 40 volunteers, who from Monday will start pitching in to sort through the items collected from donors.

On the August 28, registered families will be notified where to go and collect their items.

For the anniversary, the giveaway will be “festive”, with decorations, a DJ and fun activities for children, plus a giveaway of 300 backpacks.

Ms Spence said the donation of the charity’s first vehicle had come as “a godsend”.

The gift van came courtesy of Rotary International, through a member of the charity living in Japan who is an overseas partner of the local Happy Vans business.

She said the president of the company’s Bermuda branch, Roy Dennison, told her the company “had a good year and wanted to give something back to the community”.

Hamilton Rotary Club put Ms Spence’s charity forward as a worthy cause, with GSP receiving an all-purpose vehicle to help serve “some three dozen young people engaged in the Champions Programme – children left behind from violence”.

“We’re very grateful and looking forward to another great year,” she said.

“The phones are ringing, people are donating. We’re just asking people to give what they can and as much as they can so that we can help every child on our projected list.”

Donations can be made at the website, or via two bank accounts: the HSBC account 002-051928-001, or the Butterfield account 0601613480018.

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