BY RYAN WELLICOME
The Lacombe and District Family and Community Support Services’ (FCSS) Tools for School program is working to ensure that children attending school this fall are properly equipped, regardless of their financial situation at home.
The annually run program gives a backpack to each child filled with the supplies that they require for their studies.
“Tools for School is simply to give students in our community the tools that they need to head back to school,” said FCSS Volunteer Services Coordinator Jan Pocock.
“We want every child to enter that classroom on an equal playing field.”
Backpacks and supplies are specifically tailored to the children’s age, school and gender.
“(The family) applies, I find out what school they are at, I source that supply list for that school and I fill their backpack based on that supply list,” said Pocock. “If you are a Grade 8 girl you are going to want very different stuff than a second grade boy,” she said.
“I really believe that it is important that every child is getting something that’s special.”
Pocock said that although the backpack donations are appreciated and never turned down, it is easier to tailor backpacks to the children if the program has the ability to purchase backpacks based on applicants’ needs.
“People who donate like to donate the cute little backpacks, and that is fine, but it is different for an eighth-grade boy,” she said. “No one wants to buy that boring black backpack so it’s nice to have money to buy those.”
According to Pocock, this year’s program is running smoothly and is very busy and that is the trend.
“It’s based on our communities’ donations and we are so lucky (here). The need is always met and we are thankful for that,” she said. “These programs don’t exist unless people donate, and they do continually donate.”
In 2015, 31 families accessed the program giving 69 students backpacks from 12 different schools in Lacombe County, including eight schools within Lacombe proper.
Thirty-seven of backpack recipients were children located within the city of Lacombe while 32 were located within the County.
In order to qualify for the program, net household income must be under a maximum value set by the provincial government’s Alberta Child Health Benefit program. Maximum values vary based on factors such as single parenthood and the number of children in a household.
The program is primarily run by volunteers.
Tools for School has been an FCSS initiative for over 15 years and it is a trend within Alberta, with similar programs in Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary.
The Lacombe and District FCSS has been operating for 46 years and provides support for individuals and families through a number of support programs.
Both backpacks and supplies are either purchased with donated funds or donated in new-unused condition to the FCSS via its office in the Lacombe Memorial Centre, its satellite offices in Clive, Bentley or Alix or any of its various donation boxes located around Lacombe.
The FCSS also has coin collection bins at grocery stores in the area. The program runs through until the first day of school and according to Pocock, the schedule is crucial.
“If you are in crisis, sometimes that’s the last thing you think of until you’re like, ‘Today’s the first day of school!’,” she said
She stressed that although the program lasts for a specific time frame, students are encouraged to reach out to the FCSS at any time of the school year for assistance.
“It’s all about the kids.”