Heavy demand for school supplies – Spence

Organisers of a back-to-school campaign designed to help families in need, yesterday made a last ditch bid for public support.

Gina Spence, the activist behind the Each One Reach One campaign, said yesterday that it would be “very easy to fall behind” in her bid to help struggling parents.

Gibbons Company has teamed with Gina Spence Productions to help at least 300 families on Saturday with the cost of uniforms and supplies for the new school year.

Ms Spence said: “The overwhelming thing is knowing there are so many in need. For me, it’s the moment when they come to us and you put a face with a name, seeing the sweet innocence of a two-year-old.

“Last year, we took pictures of children opening their bags of items on distribution day.

That says it all. Even little children know when parents are struggling; children are well aware.”

Ms Spence added: “I was once one of those children. With 13 in my family, people would come to my mom and just give bags of school clothes for all of us. I’ve never forgotten how that felt.”

Today at 5pm is the deadline for preregistration for the seventh annual campaign, but walk-ins will be accepted on Saturday at the distribution centre, Anointed Steps Dance Ministry School, at the Berkeley multicultural centre in Pembroke.

Children in need can also be nominated at the charity’s website, www.ginaspenceproductions.com.

Ms Spence said the campaign’s fundraising target was set this year at $20,000, up from $17,000 last year, because demand was at a “desperate” level.

A 54-year-old Sandys grandmother whose daughter relies on the giveaway, who asked not to be named, said Ms Spence’s efforts were a lifeline for families who struggled.

The woman said: “It’s tough; I’ve got two granddaughters. Even though I’m an active grandmother in their lives, the extra really helps us.”

The grandmother added she had volunteered with Ms Spence for three years and predicted the atmosphere at the distribution on Saturday would be “great”.

She said: “It’s welcoming and nice — when people come in you just feel the warmth.

“Nobody will look down on you because you can’t afford it and you can see the excitement of the children walking in and seeing things like a great new schoolbag.”

She added: “The first year, I thought, wow, this is a lot of people.

Last year, we saw all sorts coming in; the need is not just touching one section, but affecting all people.”

She said her 31-year-old daughter had one child in primary school and another headed to secondary school who will need “everything new”.

Gibbons Company in Hamilton accepted “gently used” school clothes up until last Friday, and offered donors a 20 per cent discount on school essentials. The distribution centre will also provide free hair cuts, bags and other supplies for pupils.

Ms Spence estimated that a full school kit could run up to $600 per child. She added: “Children have been sent home because they need to have full uniform, so it can be very daunting for families that are just trying to cover food and pay rent. If a child cannot feel good and look decent, their self esteem is low.”

Paula Clarke, the chief executive officer of Gibbons Company, said the store welcomed cash donations, which would be used for gift cards that can only be spent on school items. She added it would help families if school uniforms were “more generic” instead of a variety of colours.

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