Back-to-school event aims to get students in need ready for new year

Volunteer Mikeala Stevens fills a backpack with school supplies during the PAGC’s annual Back-to-School Event at the Urban Services Building on Friday, Sept. 8. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Hundreds of students from low-income families had a chance to stock up on notebooks, binders, pens, and pencils at the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Urban Services Building on Friday.

PAGC officials estimated more than 800 students received free school supplies, while between 200 and 250 received free haircuts as park of the organization’s annual Back-to-School Event.

“The feeling is overwhelming,” PAGC Urban Services Director Geoff Despins said. “It’s a humbling experience seeing the kids with the smiles jumping around (with) fresh haircuts, brand new school supplies, brand new books, (and) bags.

“(They’re) walking out of here smiling. Parents are smiling. Everybody’s happy.”

Supplies were available on a first come, first serve basis. The afternoon event also included a free barbecue lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs.

“It’s really important to see kids start school on a good note, to start school ready, prepared, (and) have their pencils, pens, books, papers, backpacks, all ready to go for school,” Despins said. “Let’s get them educated. Let’s work together as a community. Let’s make sure their needs are filled, and making sure that we’re there for them.”

The PAGC has held its annual Back-to-School event for more than a decade, but Despins said it’s needed now more than ever. Data from Statistics Canada shows the cost of stationary supplies alone is up 12.9 per cent compared to the previous school year. Lunchbox staples like jam and jelly (up 18.8 per cent), and processed meat (up 5.2 per cent) will also cost more.

Despins said many Prince Albert families are feeling the financial pinch. He’s hoping Friday’s free event can take off some of the pressure.

“I think that back-to-school is probably one of the most expensive … times of the year,” he said.” Probably Christmas and back-to-school is similar in cost, and everybody’s going through it. Everybody needs that support. Let’s give back and make sure our kids are ready to go to school.”

The PAGC has a long list of volunteers and sponsors out helping them dole out the supplies, food, and haircuts Friday afternoon. The list includes representatives from local businesses, members of community groups, and few local politicians and emergency services personnel.

Despins credited the volunteers, sponsors, and the PAGC Urban Services staff and executive for making the event run smoothly.

“It’s huge for us,” he said.