Spence back-to-school fundraiser hits $155,000

A cross-section of supporters who helped a back-to-school campaign raise more than $155,000 showed “Bermuda cares”, one of the organiser’s said.

Gina Spence, founder of the social services charity Gina Spence Productions, added that about 1,000 children were helped by the Each One Reach One drive to supply pupils with equipment and uniforms.

She said on Saturday: “To see the number of people and the types of donations from corporate to every day people — we had a senior citizen give us $10.

“We’ve seen the full gamut of donations and what it says to me is that Bermuda cares.”

She added: “We’re excited, we’re grateful, we’re humbled.”

The charity’s school uniform recycling programme, which donated used uniforms to children signed up to the campaign, could not be held this year because of health concerns over the coronavirus and government regulations.

Ms Spence explained at the launch of the 2020 drive that it would instead focus on gift cards families could use to buy “First Day Starter Kits” at Gibbons Company in Hamilton.

She said: “We understand first hand, before we even start to put together a package or a plan, the human side of it.

“We’ve had people who have been laid off and have lost work, so we knew it was something that we had to do, the question was how could we do it and keep safety in place.”

An initial $75,000 fundraising target was expected to be enough to help 500 children.

But organisers soon discovered that the number of families went beyond their expectations and that about 1,000 pupils could need the assistance, which meant a new goal was set at $150,000.

Ms Spence added: “We had to go back to Bermuda and say, ‘you know, guys, thank you so much, but our applicants have exceeded the amount that we’ve raised’. Bermuda heard that and not only did they hear it but they jumped into full action, so I think it says a lot about us as a community in the depths of a pandemic.”

She explained that more than 900 pupils were registered with the campaign, but the figure grew thanks to walk-ins at an event for families to collect the gift cards, held at the Berkeley Institute on Saturday. Public schools are due to reopen on September 14.

Ms Spence added: “People believe in education.

“I’m not buying these guys clothes to go to a party, they’re going to sit at a desk, they’re going to be educated and we also know that if kids don’t look good, they don’t feel good, they don’t learn.”

Paula Clarke, the chief executive of Gibbons Company, said: “As always, when Bermuda is in crisis, the community comes together.”

She added: “Uniforms are a great equaliser and that’s why it’s so important. I know that during the pandemic some questions came out in the media like, why should we have to have school uniforms … it actually is much fairer to have just a set, almost generic type of uniform so that there isn’t any kind of difference in status as far as what one family can afford to put their children in compared to another one.

“It’s very important that we maintain that and the schools I know are fully supportive of school uniforms.”

Mark Raynor was presented with $400 of gift cards for his daughters, Leydi, 8, Markeli, 5, and three-year-old Salome.

He said: “I’m very grateful and very appreciative of getting the phone call that I was selected.”

The Sandys single father, who co-parents with the children’s mother, added: “I have a lot of people that really have taken note of the attention I give to my girls and they seem to be moved to reach out to me, which I greatly appreciate.

“This is my opportunity to publicly thank all of them.”

Mr Raynor, a nurse assistant and taxi driver, said: “They know I have obligations, yet they see me often with my kids at the parks, at the beaches, on nature walks, at the museum.

“They see me busy with them, yet they also know that I have to work and so, how do I get all that done, is the question I often get asked from people.

“I say, I just do the best I can to make the best lemonade possible.”

He added: “As little girls, I want them to have positive, healthy male role models in their life and there’s no greater role model a girl can have than a father.

“I really invest a lot of time in them.”

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