Backpack fundraiser for Chilliwack kids a community effort

About 1,000 Chilliwack students will once again receive backpacks stuffed with school supplies for the upcoming school year

Volunteers work at filling backpacks with school supplies at last year's We Got Your Back fundraising campaign. The event is happening again this year

Volunteers work at filling backpacks with school supplies at last year's We Got Your Back fundraising campaign. The event is happening again this year

There are about one thousand students in Chilliwack whose families can’t afford the back-to-school basics.

But that doesn’t mean those kids will be going without this year.

They’ll be armed with backpacks, fully loaded with pens, pencils and erasers, along with paper, glue and scissors. Whatever each student’s specific school-supply list contains, will be put into his or her brand new backpack ready for September.

The “We Got Your Back” program is now entering its third year of giving kids the tools they need to succeed. It’s headed up by Murray Honda in partnership with Staples, and supported by numerous local businesses and organizations. A full list of sponsors and partners is available on the Murray Honda Facebook page.

“We distribute the backpacks through all of Chilliwack’s 32 schools,” explains Darren Bosch, dealer principal of Murray Honda. “We partner with the school district, and the teachers in each classroom get the numbers to us.”

The numbers of students in need in each grade, in each school, is all that’s passed on. No names are forwarded, and the supplies and backpacks aren’t marked to show they’ve been sponsored.

Once they have the master list, the task of filling 1,000 backpacks can begin.

“You almost need a whole assembly line to do it,” Bosch says, adding that the work is done by 30 to 40 volunteers. Many of them are staff at Staples, who also enjoy giving back to the community.

Staples had been doing a supply drive for many years before partnering with Murray Honda. When the partnership formed three years ago, they were able to take the supply drive to a whole new level. It’s a level everyone involved hopes to maintain.

“No child gets left behind,” says Shelley Howe, general manager of Staples Chilliwack. “They all have everything that the other kids have.”

“It’s extremely exciting, and it’s extremely rewarding,” she adds. “This is a team thing that our store gets behind, as well as the community. We want to give as many kids as possible the tools we need, and we know the numbers in need, so it gives us great pride and pleasure to be able to do this.”

The cost of a backpack alone can provide a challenge for many cash-strapped families. And as students get older, the prices get higher with items like heavy duty binders and scientific calculators.

The team of volunteers ensures every student gets what they need.

“Last year we were even able to give them umbrellas,” says Howe.

But they can’t do all of this without the community’s help, and there are numerous ways to get involved in the giving.

As in years past, anyone shopping at Staples in Chilliwack will be asked if they want to donate at the till along with their purchase.

This year, there will also be three separate fundraising events taking place to help the cause. The first is an all-levels yoga event hosted by Studio B Yoga. The “Be Helpful” class will be led by Erika Arnold on Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m., and will be by donation.

“It’s just another way for us to team up and create awareness about the program,” says Crystal Hasell, owner of Studio B Yoga. They have helped Murray Honda in the past with last winter’s coat program, as a drop off spot. Hasell has also created her studio with a mind to improve the community, and Studio B yoga instructors are often giving their time to lead donation-based classes.

“Our vision and our mission is being mindful in all areas of our life, personal, physical, mental, and spiritual,” she says. “We have a really strong social arm at the studio.”

They hope to raise $1,000 at the event, and can accommodate up to 60 people. Registration is online, and more information is available on Studio B Yoga’s Facebook page. The entire showroom is being cleared out to make room for the event.

“It should be fun,” Hasell says. “Hopefully we get a really great turnout.”

But for those not interested in yoga, there are two community barbecues being planned as well. The first is at Staples Chilliwack on Aug. 20. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and will be co-hosted by the Cultus Lake Fire Department.

The second barbecue is on Aug. 27, at the Coast Hotel in Chilliwack. It runs from 11:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. and will be co-hosted by the Chilliwack Fire Department.

The fundraising drive is for cash only, as the massive purchase of supplies gives the organizers better buying power.

“Staples is a massive partner,” Bosch says. “We are able to have mass discounts because we’re buying so much.”

In the end, he says, it’s worth every minute and every penny.

“We do get some neat feedback from the schools and administration, and the parents,” he says. “We do this under the radar, where nothing is branded. But in some cases the parents do realize the help and we hear from them. There are a lot of heartbreaking stories out there.”