One in 10 students attending classes in a Greater Trail school is getting help with the cost of school supplies from a volunteer-run program called Skool Aid.
That number, or 10 per cent of students in either elementary school or high school, is based on the latest enrolment statistics in the Kootenay Columbia district, and the fact that Skool Aid distributed 227 packages to students from Rossland to Trail and Fruitvale before classes started Sept. 3.
When the program first started 10 years ago the number of students helped with free supplies stood at 75. Costs were covered by the goodwill of parishioners in the Catholic community of Trail, and with an unexpected $500 donation from the Kiwanis Club of Trail.
“Mind you that first year we didn’t start until August,” recalled Louise McEwan, the spearhead of Skool Aid. “That first year staff at Mills (Mills Office Productivity formerly Hall’s Basics) remember running around with those little shopping baskets grabbing whatever they could because we kept getting more requests.”
Even with a hefty discount from the downtown Trail store, McEwan became quite stressed about cash to cover demand.
“Ten years ago the program was pretty much funded by individual donations from parishioners of St. Anthony’s and Our Lady Of Perpetual Help,” she said. “I do remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ Then this cheque from Kiwanis came in, it was quite incredible.”
As need grew over time – to date over 1,600 packages have been provided to Kootenay Columbia students – volunteers had to find more ways to keep Skool Aid running so everyone who needed help with the essentials, would get it.
The Skool Aid budget now sits at $12,000 annually, or approximately $50 to $60 per student.
“Individual donations are dropping off and that has a lot to do with demographics, “McEwan said. “The last couple of years the support from the community has increased, so now the majority of funding comes from corporations, the Community Initiatives Program (Columbia Basin Trust), and service organizations. So that is a huge change for us.”
Another tweak the program made to ensure their reach extends to all students in-need, was to cut down on the amount of supplies provided at the beginning of the year.
“Initially we supplied pretty much everything on the list and in quantities on the list (for the year),” McEwan explained. “Because of the increasing number of requests and costs, we realized we couldn’t continue to do that and then we would have to say we can’t help all these kids. Of course, we want to help as many students get started in September as possible.”
So McEwan sat down with an elementary school teacher, looked at the lists, and they decided to reduce quantities of certain items. As an example, students may be asked to bring 46 pencils for the year, but they really only need a box of 10 to start.
“It would be enough to get the kids through to Christmas, or January,” she added. “Then the parents could pick up what was needed after that.”
Occasionally, McEwan faces questions about actual need, and the families being helped by Skool Aid.
The bottom line is, you cannot judge a book by its cover.
“I really feel the school knows which families need help and are not putting anyone on the list if not needed,” she shared.
“This year we had calls from the school, saying parents had let them know their circumstances had changed and that they didn’t require the supplies, could they go to someone else,” McEwan said.
“Which I think is a beautiful thing, they want to pay it forward.”