PAGC Urban Services Back to School event gives back to the community

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald People picked up boxes of school supplies during the PAGC Urban Services Back to School Event on Wednesday at the Margo Fournier Centre.

The Margo Fournier Centre was a hopping place on Wednesday afternoon as Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Urban Services hosted a Back to School Event that allowed families to get much needed supplies.

Geoff Despins, PAGC Urban Services Director, said families could find things like backpacks, pens, binders and other school supplies for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

“It’s for families that need the help,” Despins said. “We are helping everybody in Prince Albert in the community. We are a big family here and that’s what we are doing is giving back and helping support everybody and working together.”

Despins said they PAGC is a large part of the community, and is always looking for ways to give back. This year, that includes the return of a free barbecue for families, something the PAGC hasn’t been able to do for several years.

“We always wanted to have it and I know years in the past before COVID hit we did have a barbecue,” Despins explained. “We had hot dogs, we had hamburgers. This year we bought, I want to say, at least 1,500 hamburgers and 1,500 hot dogs and we are halfway through them.”

Despins said they expect more than 500 kids to come through the door. He credited the staff and volunteers for making the event a success.

“I want to say the staff did an amazing job. They have gone over and above to get this organized and get the shopping done and to have everything prepared,” he explained.

People entered in alphabetical order and filled out forms for specific grades, and sent through in groups of 20 at a time. Families were also able to get haircuts free of charge on the other side of the gym.

There was a lineup around the Fournier Centre before the event really got rolling Wednesday afternoon, with people coming early for the community barbecue. Members of the Prince Albert Fire Department and Prince Albert Police Service both volunteered at the barbecue.

Despins said that the event received strong support from PAGC leadership including Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, Vice Chiefs Joseph Tsannie and Christopher Jobb, and executive director Al Ducharme.

“I do want to bring greetings and they are a huge supporter of this,” Despins sid. “(They are) always encouraging, they are always saying, ‘yes please start it and get it going.’”

Due to the ongoing events in the PAGC governing area at James Smith Cree Nation, leadership from that First Nation could not attend.

The Back to School Event is one of several programs the PAGC offers in Prince Albert. Others include an SGI program, and learner licence programs, among others.

The PAGC recently purchased the Margo Fournier Centre from the City of Prince Albert, and Despins said they are still in the process of planning their official move into the building.

“We are just going on and on with programming and we are going to continue to do that, especially when we move into the Margo Fournier Centre,” he said. “We are going to make sure this place is utilized for sports and rec.”

Despins, on behalf of the PAGC, concluded by expressing his feelings about the ongoing events at James Smith.

“Huge condolences to the three bands that make up James Smith Cree Nation and condolences from us here. We are here supporting and trying to help out as much as we can and it is heartfelt,” Despins said.