A charity has been swamped by its biggest demand for school uniforms as needy families prepare for the start of the school year
Gina Spence, a community activist who has run her back-to-school programme for 16 years, said this year’s drive was under “a huge amount of pressure”, as more than triple the usual number of requests has been made.
Ms Spence said: “We had 60 families registered in less than seven days. In previous years, 15 to 20 families would have signed up in the first week.
“Another telltale sign this year was that we started getting calls in June from people who knew they would need help. We never get them so early.
“It’s more difficult when demand increases because we can only give out as much as we receive.”
As of yesterday, 105 children were nominated and registered, with Ms Spence making a last-ditch appeal for donations of school clothes and funds.
With a week to go before the distribution of school gear on September 1, Ms Spence has asked for benefactors to consider donations or gift certificates.
“We know from the amount of calls that we are not going to outfit every child, but donations help us stretch what we have.”
Ms Spence attributed the high need to the expense of elaborate mandatory uniforms, as well as a wave of referrals from the Department of Financial Assistance.
She said: “This year, they have directed their clients to register with us to get assistance with school uniform items.”
One beneficiary of the “Each One, Reach One” campaign asked to remain anonymous.
The 35-year-old mother of three children said she had volunteered with Ms Spence before she fell on hard times and needed help eight years ago.
Now her children are aged 12, 7 and 3, she said, with even the nursery age child needing a uniform.
“As a young single mother, I was gobsmacked by the astronomical prices of school clothing. Last year, I had one starting primary school, one starting middle school, and I had to get everything brand new.”
Children attending school without the correct uniform are sent home.
The mother said: “I appreciate that they hold kids to a standard, but at the same time there’s a need for help. For some parents it’s the worst feeling to have to go and feel like you’re begging someone to help you.”
She added that footwear is not included, and her eldest son wears men’s size shoes, which cost $212.
Additionally, uniforms change between seasons, requiring new purchases as children outgrow old uniforms.
The woman added: “As parents, we have no choice, but there are many ways as a community that we can alleviate this. Schools could have a uniform return policy.
“I take my stuff from last year and turn it back in, and I encourage more people to do that.”
For the past eight years, Ms Spence’s top partner in recycling second-hand uniforms has been Gibbons Company.
Paula Clarke, chief executive of Gibbons, said the company encourages customers to bring in “gently used uniforms” in return for discounts on certain school supplies.
Ms Clarke said: “We collect them and sort them by size and style. Gina sets a day to hand out uniforms. It’s a fantastic programme.”
Ms Spence called Gibbons Company “invaluable” and also thanked Nikkita Robinson, host of The Ladies Room on HOTT 107.5, who backs the campaign every August as her charity of the month.
Ms Spence said she had met privately with officials from the Department of Financial Assistance to discuss collaboration.
Uniforms will be given out on September 1, at the old Berkeley Institute building off St John’s Road in Pembroke.
After the big day, Ms Spence said she intended to meet with the department and other assisting organisations to “start the dialogue and look at the specific needs of our children and families concerning school”.
“Could you imagine if all those entities that provide school help could come together under one roof and work in partnership?”
Ms Spence also said the community should “reconsider what we’re asking of parents” and “keep it simple” when it came to uniform requirements.
She added: “With school supplies and lunches, there’s already so much that’s required, and children are teased if they don’t have it. It puts parents under huge pressure.”
Parents seeking assistance are required to register with Gina Spence Productions, at www.ginaspenceproductions.com.
The charity, number 856, tracks every item it receives and gives out, she said. This Thursday marks the deadline for registration.
Meanwhile, Ms Spence said the campaign would need at least $14,000 to cover this year’s roster of families in need, with one week to go before uniforms are given out.
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