Agency requested backpacks from the United Way Backpack program have risen 16% from 2017, going from 1326 to 1534, said United Way of Bruce Grey Executive Director Francesca Dobbyn.
“I am concerned if we see an increase of 16% in requests from the individuals in [Grey and Bruce], the overall demand for the program could exceed 2,400 backpacks, that’s 400 more than we anticipated,” said Dobbyn. “This could put us significantly over budget for 2018."
Local agencies review their client lists and send the United Way a bulk request for supplies, enabling United Way to plan for the large numbers and utilize a distribution system to get the backpacks to the children.
The community approach is direct from the families themselves, explained Dobbyn. Either through word of mouth or the media, families learn of the program and call 211 to be placed on the list.
In a United Way media release, the organization focuses on the agencies for July and the community requests in August.
“We are seeing an increase in the younger grades, 23% specific to the primary grades," she said.
Dobbyn said she doesn’t know what is causing the increase but wonders if housing affordability is driving young families out of major urban areas into the rural communities. “We are also seeing more and more families financially challenged by precarious work and the lack of living wage jobs in the region,” she said.
The United Way is concerned that the program is indicating an increase in local child poverty rates as the population of children is declining in the region but more of those children are being raised in poverty.
Since 2005 the United Way has distributed over 21,000 backpacks throughout Bruce and Grey counties. For those wishing to support United Way's backpack program, contributions can be made online at www.donatetoday.ca, by phone at 519-376-1560 or by mail or in person at 380 9th Street East Owen Sound.
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