Groups come together to help local students


The United Way of Chatham-Kent (UWOCK), in partnership with Enbridge, Employment and Social Services, TekSavvy, Women United, Staples and Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent, are coming together to ensure that children will have access to the supplies they will need for school.

Through the Operation Backpacks program, United-Way of Chatham-Kent was able to provide 1,148 backpacks loaded with grade appropriate supplies for children in struggling families last year. 

This program has a long history in C-K. By building relationships between schools, families, non-profits, service clubs and business, United Way brings the community together to support kids across C-K.

“It costs us approximately $25 per child and approximately 1,115 work hours annually to ensure that every student is prepared for a school year full of social opportunities, exploring and learning,” Karyn O’Neil, director of community impact with UWOCK, said in a media release. “It’s a lot of work. Thankfully, caring workplaces like Enbridge have been great supporters of the backpack program. Both through their staff’s volunteer time and financially. We couldn’t do this without the community’s support”

The pandemic has forced families and schools to forge new ways on how everyone views learning. Many households were not prepared, especially for children living in lower income homes as classrooms went digital. 

United Way officials said they anticipate a greater demand, so they reached out to the Kiwanis of Chatham-Kent and Staples to see how their Start to Smart School Drive can work in unison to help children going back to school.

“We are looking at new ways that we can support families and provide a dignified and meaningful back to school experience,” O’Neil said. “After reviewing how Start to Smart provides gift cards for back-to-school purchasing, it made sense. We received a lot of positive feedback from families who utilized gift cards provided through the COVID Student Nutrition Relief Program. By switching the backpack program to a similar format, it will provide families the freedom to purchase the supplies they know their children will use regularly.”

In the past, Operation Backpack provided grade-appropriate supplies suggested by the school boards. For the 2020-2021 school year, things may operate differently but there is still going to be a need for supplies, UWOCK officials said. 

Instead of needing a new backpack, students may require more USB drives, a mask, or duplicates for at-home use and a set to use at school. Gift cards can provide this flexibility for families as they shop local in their neighbourhood.

The Kiwanis of Chatham-Kent and Staples Chatham are working to fundraise through the Start to Smart School Drive. Donations can be made at the Staples Chatham location or online upon checkout.

Operations Backpack will accept donations online through or accepting gift cards to various back-to-school retailers in communities throughout Chatham-Kent at their Chatham or Tilbury office.

Families who require back-to-school assistance are being asked to hold tight. A registration date will become available once there is a firmer understanding on what will be requested of families for the upcoming school year. 

For additional information on how to support the Operation Backpack Program and the Start to Smart School Drive, visit or


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