Back-to-school program for single parents swamped by demand

A St. John's charity says its back-to-school program has had record demand this year, and they just can't help everybody. (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)
A St. John's charity says its back-to-school program has had record demand this year, and they just can't help everybody. (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)
David Donnelly/CBC
David Donnelly/CBC

A St. John's charity is reporting record demand for services as children prepare to head back to the classroom.

The Single Parent Association of Newfoundland runs an annual back to school program that provides backpacks and school supplies for K-12 students in single-parent homes. Last year, the program helped 364 children. This year, demand has almost doubled.

Sonya Smith, the organization's executive director, says the start of a new school year can be a stressful time for single parents.

"We know that when kids go back to school, it's a struggle for many, many families out there," said Smith. "But when you're talking about one-income families, with the cost of living rising as it is and trying to get kids back to school, trying to get everything that they need, it's difficult for single-parent families."

Submitted by Sonya Smith
Submitted by Sonya Smith

Smith said there has been such a response to the program — from 644 students — that the organization implemented a wait-list — and then had to cap it. Smith estimates an additional 25-30 families were put on the waiting list before it closed, adding that those students will also receive the supplies they need.

Smith said the association didn't want to close the the wait-list to families in need — resources are simply running out.

"There comes a point when you have to say 'we've reached our limit' in terms of being able to provide for families this year," said Smith. "But we have other programs that can help families as well."

Smith says the organization's other program are seeing increased demand as well, highlighting the struggle of many single parents in the province.

"It's a clear indication of how much people are actually struggling and how many people who are out there who really need support," said Smith. "It's just unbelievable."

Businesses not immune to struggle

The return to school means one St. John's business is experiencing one of its busiest times of year while dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corina Byrne marketing manager of office supply business Dicks & Company Basics says all industries are still dealing with the supply chain problems caused by the pandemic.

"The supply chain has been a mess since the beginning of the pandemic," said Corina Byrne, the store's marketing manager. "It has really affected all industries. We're not immune at all."

Byrne said increases to freight and fuel costs have forced them to raise the price of all products and services. The pandemic also drove up demand for paper products causing significant supply problems for items like printer paper.

"In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a real boost in online ordering," said Byrne. "In the paper world, there was this huge demand all of a sudden for shipping products, cardboard boxes and whatnot. Of course, paper pulp is used for that."

As the pandemic caused shutdowns across the globe, prices for office products climbed steadily, while supply continued to decrease.

"All of these factors create this hornets' nest of problems in the supply chain," said Byrne. "It is just one big river of issues."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

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