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Backpack Giveaway Gives Inner-city Youth a Head-Start on School

White Buffalo Youth Lodge
White Buffalo Youth Lodge Back to School Backpack Giveaway

From left: Dean Santamaria (Pioneer Conveyor LLC’s sales director), Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand, Lee Rubic (VP Operations at GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance) and STC’s CEO Cliff Tawpisin. Santamaria travelled from West Virginia to Saskatoon to take part in the annual Carnival and Back to School Backpack Giveaway held at White Buffalo Youth Lodge on August 30, 2018.

Think back to your childhood. Try to remember the first day of a new school year.

You likely had a backpack full to bursting with school supplies, the smell of new pencils and notebooks mingling together in that vital accessory every kid needs. Now imagine the first day of school without a backpack or any of those supplies. Imagine sitting in your desk while the kids around you take out pencils to write in notebooks that you don’t have.

Four years ago, the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) began the Carnival and Back to School Backpack Giveaway for youth from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Nutrien came on board as a platinum sponsor for the August event held at White Buffalo Youth Lodge (WBYL). STC Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said the sponsors all want to give youth an opportunity to succeed. “If a kid doesn’t have (school supplies) how can they get a quality education,” says Arcand.

Each backpack comes stocked with grade-appropriate school supplies. Sponsors donated enough this year so that extras, like toques and toothpaste, were included. During the first year, 700 backpacks were given away. This year, that number jumped to 1,200. STC would like to fill 2,000 backpacks in 2019.

During the carnival, SaskEnergy provides the burgers and hot dogs while kids jump on bouncy castles. “We want to make it a fun atmosphere, so kids are excited about going back to school,” says Arcand. Nutrien’s procurement businesses, along with STC’s community partners all helped raise $120,000 for the 2018 event.

Sponsors were encouraged to attend the giveaway and help fill backpacks. “They get to shake hands with the kids, the mothers, see the hardships but also see the smiles of the kids when they get all that stuff,” says Arcand. “Then they know their investment is going to make a difference in somebody’s life.” The cost of school supplies is insurmountable for many inner-city families. “They have to choose between (school) supplies or food or rent,” explains Arcand.

WBYL has been running for 20 years in Saskatoon providing free programming and services to youth, families and elders. Last year, 34,000 kids came through the door. A healthy living group for adults meets weekday mornings for walking programs, powwow and ballroom dancing, yoga and cooking classes.

Della Kinequon and Larry Sanderson are peer leaders—part of their role is to make participants feel welcome. “We have a regular few participants come and it’s really good to see them,” said Kinequon. Sanderson, aged 65, said he enjoys the regular physical activity. “(The program) taught me how to keep healthy—eat healthy, exercise,” says Sanderson. Kinequon says the group has had a positive effect on the participants, who are mainly seniors living in Saskatoon’s inner-city neighbourhoods. “I like seeing old and new faces that come in and out of the program,” she says.

If you or your business would like to help STC reach its 2,000 backpacks goal in 2019, visit the Saskatoon Tribal Council’s website at sktc.sk.ca or speak to Mark Arcand or CEO Cliff Tawpisin by calling 306-956-6100.