As a mom to four grown children and a nine-yearold, Connie McGonigal knows first-hand how expensive back-to-school shopping can be.
"I was a stay-at-home mom with four kids so it was very expensive, back to school time. We saved for months prior [to back to school]," she recalled.
That's why McGonigal, the family and community ministries advocate with The Salvation Army Caring Place, is so enthusiastic about a program that donates backpacks filled with school supplies to students from needy families. With another new school year just around the corner, The Caring Place is teaming with the Staples location in Maple
Ridge, the local Wok Box restaurant, and Yuen's Martial Arts to ease families' burden of purchasing items such as backpacks, notebooks, and pens and pencils.
Staples for Students is a program in which people can make donations at Staples, 20050 Lougheed Highway, or at The Caring Place, 22188 Lougheed Highway. All of the money is earmarked for school supplies.
The Caring Place has been administering the program unofficially for the last six or seven years, estimated McGonigal. She added that officially, this is the third year that Staples has come on board in partnership with the Wok Box restaurant in Maple Ridge.
The Wok Box is collecting funds at its location at 20395 Lougheed Hwy. In addition, customers who make a five-dollar donation at Staples get a free kid's meal at Wok Box.
Yuen's Martial Arts is chipping in by fundraising for the program, which ends Sept. 9. Kevin Younghusband, general manager of the Staples location in Maple Ridge, said Staples employees are asking customers for cash donations and the local store has also been hosting fundraisers.
"We're starting to get local businesses involved who want to help out," Younghusband said.
In past years, McGonigal and two other Caring Place employees have filled shopping carts with supplies for roughly 150 students.
Many of the program's beneficiaries come through the Caring Place ministry Sonia's Cradle, a program started in 2009 that helps provide struggling families with items for babies and toddlers.
"Large families, with like five or six kids... those kinds of families are identified by us," McGonigal said. "And then we also get referrals from agencies like the Family Resource Centre, MCFD [Ministry of Children and Family Development], Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living... lots of agencies within Maple Ridge are phoning me."
Younghusband said the Caring Place is "really good" at identifying the students who benefit from the program the most.
"We know it is getting into the hands of the children who really need it," he said. "Our team here really enjoys doing the fundraising because of that."
Last year, more than $5,000 was raised.
The goal this year is $6,000 and the total as of Aug. 15 was "a little shy of halfway there," Younghusband said.
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