Hundreds of children received new backpacks filled with all the essentials for school at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries’ annual back-to-school fair.
The third annual fair was held Wednesday afternoon at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church.
Around 400 students received a backpack at the event that also included a day at the fair with a free hot dog lunch, complete with chips and a drink, free haircuts and styles from professional hairstylists who donated their time and free cotton candy and popcorn provided by Maple Ridge Christian Reformed Church. There was also a bouncy castle and a pair of llamas.
“In the bags is a full kit. So binders, pencils, pens, erasers, scissors, everything that a kid needs to start the school year off,” said outgoing Ridge Meadows ministries’ executive director Darrel Pilgrim.
Last year, they helped more than 500 children.
Fundraising coordinator with the Ridge Meadows Ministries Belinda Carlaw, said this year they had to limit who they served in the community and a couple of agencies that they helped last year, they were unable help this year.
Carlaw said the free backpacks and school supplies are for vulnerable and low income families and registration is done through the Salvation Army prior to the fair.
They also work with the school district throughout the school year.
“This past June, we gave the school board 1,000 pamphlets to hand out to those they felt would benefit from this program,” said Carlaw adding that they also help other agencies including the Friends In Need Food Bank and another Salvation Army.
The program is run in partnership with Staples where they purchase the backpacks and supplies at a reduced cost and Canadian Tire Maple Ridge that has donated 100 backpacks to the program over the last two years. They also receive monetary donations from many businesses as well.
The cost is about $75 per child, which does not include the cost of putting on the fair.
“Our desire is to make sure that every vulnerable child enters the school year with the necessary supplies to have a successful year. We believe that by equipping them with a good start, they will have a higher chance of success,” said Carlaw.
The Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries has been giving out free backpacks and supplies for 17 years. The first year there were only 20 students that grew to 80-100 students shortly after.
Agencies that had booths at the fair included: the Maple Ridge Fire Department; the Maple Ridge Public Library; Maple Ridge Parks and Recreation; the Maple Ridge branch of the B.C. SPCA; Immigration Services; Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association; Literacy Council; School District 42 Parent Council; Public Health Nurse; and several local churches.
“The kids we are helping today, they are vulnerable in our community and this is a chance for us to show them that we care about them and believe in them and the future that they can have,” said Pilgrim.