Backpack support tries to meet demand

FreeHelpCK’s popular backpacks for kids program is getting plenty of support. The group has already purchased and filled 500 backpacks and is aiming to supply at least 200 more to students in need. The Chatham Goodfellows got in on the act last week by donating an additional 50 backpacks. Here, Goodfellows president Craig Williston and FreeHelpCK founder Geri Hughson show off some of the supplies.

 By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When it comes to backpacks, FreeHelpCK is doing a brisk business.

The volunteer group collected and filled 500 backpacks with school supplies to distribute to local students.

After the online link went live last week, the backpacks were gone in one hour.

But not to despair.

Group founder Geri Hughson said FreeHelpCK is working on filling another 200 backpacks – or more.

“Whatever we collect, we will be passing on,” a busy Hughson said. “We will distribute whatever volunteers give.”

Hughson said people that are unable to shop themselves can donate a gift card. The money will be used to purchase backpacks, lunchboxes or any of the other supplies kids need to head back to school.

Chatham Goodfellows heard the group was out of backpacks and immediately stepped up to help by donating 50 backpacks the following day.

Hughson said she can’t believe the demand.

“We did 348 backpacks last year so we’re doubling that,” she explained, adding demand in this year’s FreeHelpCK’s free prom dress program tripled over 2021.

“That tells me how much need there is out there,” Hughson explained.

FreeHelpCK, who have been distributing backpacks for the past three years, partnered with LINCK and the United Way of Chatham-Kent this year. Gifts cards valued at $50 were also distributed to youngsters in need via an online link.

They were gone in 15 minutes after the link went live.

“The demand is way up,” Hughson noted.

For the next few Fridays in August, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., goods will be collected at Chatham’s Real Canadian Superstore for the initiative.

“We hope to get enough for another 200,” Hughson said.

People wishing to donate to help the group hit the goal can drop off supplies or gift cards in Chatham at Staples, Giant Tiger, Maple City Residence, the Downtown Chatham Centre in a bin in front of FreeHelpCK’s storefront, a private residence at 35 Oxley St., and in Blenheim at Handy Bros.

E-transfers are also accepted via e-mail at




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