It’s Christmas in September in Ottawa as the Christmas Exchange charity most famous for its work around the holidays frantically collects donations to provide school supplies for needy children across the city.
More than 3,000 children have been signed up for school supplies kits and vouchers to help them start the upcoming school year, and Christmas Exchange is responsible for about 2,700 of them. But director Marilyn Matheson said the organization is far from hitting its fundraising goals to meet those demands.
About $45,000 has already been raised, but another $70,000 to $80,000 is needed to serve Ottawa’s low-income families with the necessary crayons, pencils and backpacks, she said.
“We’re not meeting the demand, there’s an urgent need for money to come in,” she said. “This is a really important thing. These children really help.”
The school supplies assistance program asks donors to offer financial donations of $30 or $40. A $30 donation purchases a junior school supplies kit from the Tools 4 School program, which would provide crayons, pencil crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks and other junior items for a child in kindergarten to Grade 6. A $40 donation buys a senior kit, which adds pens, calculators, duotangs, binders and other items to the kit for Grades 7 to 12.
A $40 donation can also buy a backpack voucher from Giant Tiger, which Matheson said is the most dignified option for families using their services.
“We find that the voucher provides them with a lot more dignity, because they can choose the backpack that they want, or the lunch kit or the shoes that they need. The parents are a better judge of what kids need,” she said. It also gives parents the freedom to buy items they need most, so that if the child already has a hand-me-down backpack they can instead buy a new pair of shoes.
Giant Tiger gives the organization a five per cent discount on its vouchers, so donor money goes farther, Matheson said. The voucher can’t be used to buy tobacco or lottery tickets, and can’t be used to get cash back.
Matheson added that the Tools 4 Schools kits don’t provide children with a backpack, and currently funds are so low and demand so high that students are being assigned either a kit or a voucher, not both. Matheson said going to school without a backpack can be humiliating.
“Children going to school without a backpack, who are carrying their supplies in a grocery bag, they can be targeted by bullies,” she explained.
This is the first year Christmas Exchange has offered the school supplies program, and Matheson said they’re hoping they can offer it again in January for the beginning of the new semester.
She hinted that with such a seasonal name their organization has fundraising limits, and are thus planning to completely overhaul their name, logo and mandate in September.
“Hopefully this will allow us to do fundraising all year round,” she said.
To donate, visit www.christmas-exchange.com.