“I just really like helping people and I know they need school supplies.”
That is the straightforward answer eight-year-old Kenzie Gormley gave when asked about starting an initiative, prior to the start of 2018-19 school year, to help those in need with school supplies.
The campaign, run last year by Kenzie and her mom Sherise Pettipas with help from the Antigonish chapter of the International Order of Good Fellows (I.O.O.F. – Jewel Lodge #42), is being assisted this year by Atlantic Superstore.
The support being provided by Atlantic Superstore is allowing the campaign to expand to Port Hawkesbury, New Glasgow and Truro. The I.O.O.F. chapters in those communities are following in the footsteps of their Antigonish members in providing assistance.
“She came to me when we were out school supplies shopping and wondered if she could supply a couple of backpacks and supplies for kids in need, to some place in town,” Pettipas said of the origins of Kenzie’s Backpack – the official title of the campaign.
“We did some investigating after we purchased all the supplies and couldn’t really find a definite distribution area; anybody who was really taking it on. Kids’ First had done it in the past, but they were not going to be doing it that year. We didn’t really have a place to drop the stuff off so, we decided, we would be the people who would distribute the stuff.
“It just, kind of, grew from there; people made donations and we put together some backpacks.”
The initial goal was 30 filled backpacks, starting with the two Kenzie and her mom donated.
“I think we ended up with 75,” Pettipas said, “which was great.”
She noted it was a lot of work receiving the donations, filling and then distributing the backpacks to those who applied to be part of the program.
“We went out and met people or we arranged times and had them pick up from us,” Pettipas said, referring to both the acceptance of donations as well as distribution. “There were a lot of different days of the week we were meeting people. This year, we’re hoping to change that a bit with Superstore coming on; they’ve been, kind of, set up as a distribution centre.”
Kenzie, who is entering Grade 4 at Antigonish Education Centre, where music is her favourite subject, was presented with an award by I.O.O.F. recognizing her “outstanding kindness.”
“I got a plaque,” Kenzie said, as a large smile crossed her face.
The best way to apply for assistance from the program is by visiting Kenzie’s Backpacks’ Facebook page or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a scale used to evaluate if a family qualifies.
Pettipas said they receive requests through organizations in Antigonish, such as Kids’ First, the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and the Naomi Society, and the same scenario is happening in the communities who have come onboard this year.
“We’re going to accept applications right up to when school starts,” she said, noting it’s not a strict deadline as they’ll accept applications which trickle in after the year officially begins.
Pettipas noted too that they try and help out during the year if a family finds themselves needing supplies because of some unexpected emergency, such as a fire.
“Or maybe for people who are fleeing domestic violence situations, who may need the help,” she said. “We don’t really turn anyone away.”
A change from last year is not making the backpacks and supplies grade specific, but more for a range of grades.
“In doing that last year, we learned that school supplies for P (primary) to 4 seemed to be, generally, the same supplies, then junior high is the same, high school the same,” Pettipas said, adding not being so grade specific will help fill the backpacks faster and more efficiently.
As for donated supplies they don’t see as much as they could use, she noted binders and highlighters; generally, items used by high school students.
“The older grades stuff, we don’t receive a ton of those supplies,” she said.
Atlantic Superstore has designated Kenzie as their ‘back-to-school ambassador.’
“Atlantic Superstore is supporting Kenzie’s Backpacks because we would like every child to know the excitement of going to school prepared for the coming year,” a Superstore release states.
“For this year, we have expanded our community outreach to include receiving donations at our Antigonish, Port Hawkesbury, New Glasgow and Truro stores. Anyone can leave a donation and Kenzie’s Backpacks will make sure what you donate will be given to a child who needs a bit of help within any of these communities or surrounding areas.”