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Calgary campaign launches to provide basic school supplies to 3,000 students

Thousands of Calgary school kids could be without vital school supplies this fall, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Matters, a non-profit public education trust that supports the Calgary Board of Education, has launched an emergency Back to School fundraising campaign.

The campaign hopes to raise enough cash to fill 3,000 backpacks with essential school equipment for Calgary students. Filling each backpack costs between $30 and $50 each, according to the group.


One of the pandemic-related concerns is the inability of kids and teachers to share equipment this upcoming school year.

“We can’t share supplies in the school the way we used to,” said Helen Nowlan-Walls, director, donor and community engagement for Education Matters.

“A lot of kids would go in, they get a pen from a friend, they go grab something from the teacher’s desk and it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

They want to make sure that whether a student is in Grade 1 or Grade 11, they have the tools they need this year – without having to share.

“COVID-19 has negatively affected so many families, greatly increasing the number of students in need of a hand up to help them fully participate in learning,” said Althea Adams, Trustee for Wards 3 and 4, and Education Matters board member.

“It is a great opportunity to help out our fellow Calgarians and pull together as a community to support our students in their learning this year despite the pandemic.”

Playing the waiting game

Nowlan-Walls said they’ve been working with the Calgary Board of Education as they chart the course for school re-entry. They couldn’t really put a plan in place to assist kids until they knew the province’s re-entry orders.

“Are we going back to classes, and at what point we didn’t want to start buying classroom materials only to find out that students weren’t going to be in class,” she said.

“So, we had to play a bit of a waiting game for a while there until it became clear where things were going.”

For now, the focus is on basic supplies. They want to get students ready to tackle school from day one. As the year progresses, and the pandemic situation evolves or changes, more support could be needed.

There could be a greater need for tablets or laptops, too. Should kids be sick, their parents sick or there’s a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a school, they need alternatives.

In a situation like in-class libraries, Nowlan-Walls said in a classroom of 25 kids, and a potential 10-day quarantine for returned books, they could have 250 books out of commission at any one time.

“It’s all about how can we make sure that, regardless of a pandemic, all of our students get to succeed no matter what their home situation is. Whether they have parents who are out of work, whether they’re living with the grandparents, and they’re trying their best to keep away from them,” she said.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

Year-long campaign

The uncertainty in need this year has pushed Nowlan-Walls toward running this emergency campaign all year.

Demand could increase, too. With families out of work, struggling to make ends meet, there could be more pressure to lend a hand. Nowlan-Walls said this year, it will be harder for teachers to do the extras for students.

“I think we’re going to see just how much that general kindness, whether it was from friends or other families, the teachers have always kind of tried to take care of their own as best they could,” she said.

The situation is likely the same in other school system, too. The CBE isn’t alone in aiding students unable to meet basic supply needs, Nowlan-Walls said.

Calgarians interested in making a donation can visit the Education Matters website.