Stay in school: Backpacks for children

Topics: Alberta, Emergencies and Disasters in Canada
Diana Coulter | September 16, 2014

Backpack distribution

Settling six children in Calgary schools this fall is an ongoing challenge for Chasity Daniels as she struggles to find a large, affordable home in the city’s tight rental market. Last year’s Alberta floods damaged the family’s home on the Siksika Nation and eventually forced them to move.  So, the recent offer of bright, new backpacks filled with school supplies was a welcome surprise.


“This means a lot because it is a hard time for us right now,” said Daniels. “We really appreciate it.”
The backpacks were donated by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) “Royal Eagles” employees, Neighbourlink, and the Rotary Club’s Tom Jackson “Stay In School” program for aboriginal youth. Doreen Williams, who runs the Canadian Red Cross “Tipi of Courage – Warriors” program for aboriginal youth in Alberta, helped RBC and Rotary contact about 150 First Nations families, like Daniels’, who were affected by the Alberta floods. All will receive backpacks for their children attending city schools.


Daniels’ shy twins, Trice and Tara-Shay Black, aged 10, each carefully selected backpacks from a neat stack arranged by grade at the Calgary Red Cross office recently. Trice was especially looking forward to Grade 5 Social Studies because he loves learning about people and places, he said. His older siblings have enrolled in business studies and plan to start a catering company for pow-wows and other aboriginal events, they said. Another brother aims to be a police officer, perhaps working in aboriginal communities, he said.


The family was staying with relatives at Siksika when the floods forced them all out and destroyed most of their belongings, said Daniels. Red Cross has since helped replace their clothing and other items.
Another parent, Robert Starblanket, collected one yellow and two black backpacks for his three school-aged daughters. His family was evacuated from Canyon Meadows during the floods, he said.


 A single parent after his wife died in 2011, Starblanket said: “It’s been rough for us because we sometimes can’t afford to get things, so this will really help my girls. They are very motivated children and it will mean a lot.”
Jo-Ann Gunderson of RBC said she volunteers for the backpack program, started six years ago, because as a Metis child, her parents “always instilled in me, as a young girl, that education was so important. They pushed us because they knew an education would allow us to empower ourselves.”


This year, Gunderson helped raised funds for more than 400 backpacks for aboriginal youth in Calgary. With Red Cross assistance, it was decided this year to give some backpacks “to people still affected by the floods, who may not have the resources for school,” she explained.


Catherine Brownlee, of the Rotary Club, acknowledged all the work contributed by volunteers and donors this year. “These backpacks and this program are just outstanding. Thank you so much for your support.”