(Rori Bennett)

By Rori Bennett – Junior Reporter

With the 2019/2020 school year quickly approaching, Operation Backpacks was in full swing on Thursday as children and families attended the Wallaceburg UAW Hall to pick up backpacks and supplies generously donated for the upcoming school year.

Backpacks were available for pick-up from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Organizers say the goal of the program is to provide local children with a new backpack full of grade appropriate supplies to support a great start to the new school year.

Several community organizations and businesses supported this event, including: Re:Find, United Way of Chatham-Kent, Knights of Columbus, Eternity’s Touch and the UAW.

Organizers say due to the generosity of the program supporters, every family who requested a backpack received one for the new school year.

There were over 1,000 backpacks distributed around Chatham-Kent and over 200 distributed in Wallaceburg, organizers say.

“Operation Backpack is on its 18th year,” Gene Lacina, Operation Backpacks coordinator, told the Sydenham Current.

“It is a program that the United Way has run to provide kids from families in need of a backpack so they can go to school and have their own supplies. (It’s for) families who might not otherwise be able to afford them.”

Lacina said Operation Backpacks started in Chatham-Kent with the Health Unit.

“United Way then picked it up and it was something that we found there was a need in the community,” she said.

“So we really wanted to help support that need. From donated money, we are able to, through Giant Tiger, order a lot of our backpacks in and we’ve had just any group of people that want to donate. We’ve had in Chatham a few organizations donate and we’ve also had some seniors groups that are at residencies.

Lacina added: “Winners did a little bit of a dry press. Then we get huge support from, it was Union Gas, but now Enbridge in Chatham-Kent. They have supported our program year after year and they’re always a big help.”

Lacina said on top of the pick-up event in Wallaceburg and Chatham, there was one held in Tilbury as well.

“There are over 1,000 backpacks in total, with a good chunk of them coming into wallaceburg for pick up (on Thursday,” Lacina said.

Also present at the Operation Backpack pickup event was a representative from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent for the Canada Learning Bond, a program available to families with children born after January 1, 2004 who are looking to save money for their child’s education.

“You could potentially qualify for up to $2,000 for your child to be put into an RESP for their post secondary education,” Shannon L’Ecuyer, the municipal representative for the program, told the Sydenham Current.

“So, for example, if you had a child that would have qualified for maybe two or three years or even five years ago, you could still apply for it and the government will still retroactively pay it and put it into an RESP for that child and it will help them with their post secondary education.”

L’Ecuyer added: “If you choose to contribute, then the government will still have other funds available to match what you’ve been putting into it, up to 40% of what you contribute, but if you choose not to contribute, you can still qualify for the Canada Learning Bond.”

L’Ecuyer said in Chatham-Kent only 25% of available participants that would qualify for the program have been applying.

“So there are 75% of people that would qualify for Canada Learning Bond that have not accessed it,” she said.

“So, we’re really trying to get the word out, so that people can access it and will help with their post secondary education.”

For more information on Operation Backpack, or to request a backpack, visit: https://uwock.ca/operationbackpacks/