Backpacks for Kids collects hundreds of bags

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Hundreds of school aged children in the district will be getting a helping hand this school year thanks to tireless volunteers and a giving community.

Roughly 209 backpacks full of school supplies were delivered to the local Kenora and Rainy River Districts (KRRD) Child and Family Services office on Monday morning thanks to the Backpacks for Kids team, who have been collecting donations since early July to help children in need get off to a strong start in September. Volunteers and KRRD Child and Family Services staff hauled a pickup truck’s worth of collected backpacks up to the second floor offices, where they will be sorted and then distributed throughout the district. The initiative itself is carried out through the Backpack for Kids Team, KRRD Child and Family Services and Weechi-it-te-win Family Services.

Backpack for Kids organizers Kathy Lampi and Kelsey Langtry said the haul of backpacks is a significant achievement for the year, especially coming off of two years where no backpacks have been collected at all.

“It’s been two years because of COVID and I wasn’t comfortable asking businesses that had to be closed to donate,” Lampi said.

“We’re back again this year and I was hoping to be bigger and stronger, but then of course life gets in the way, but we’re happy with 209 backpacks. I think we did 299 last time, which was our hugest year ever.”

Canvassing for the bags began on July 1 when Langtry sent letters out to downtown and other district businesses asking for donations for the campaign. Additionally, a call also went out on the groups Facebook page inviting members of the public to bring donations and bags of their own.

“We also had some kids to a lemonade stand,” Langtry added.

Lampi said many businesses and individuals in the area are aware of Backpacks for Kids, even after a two-year absence, and so in addition to backpacks and school supplies, the group also received plenty of monetary donations. Some businesses stepped up in additional ways to help out, including Fort Frances Family Dentists, who turned their office into a drop-off location for donations, and Boston Pizza, who both hosted a donation night and themselves donated towards the campaign.

“Dale [Fortes of Boston Pizza] did a Wednesday night special where anyone who brought in a school supply got a percentage off their meal,” Lampi said.

“He did a cash donation and $250 worth of Kid’s Cards. The staff also donated, they had a box in the back for staff donations. He was a huge contributor again this year, as they always are.”

Lampi shared that The Bargain Shop in downtown Fort Frances is always a key figure when it comes to Backpacks for Kids, helping to collect donations and items to go towards the grand total.

“The Bargain Shop is instrumental every year,” she said.

The collection of backpacks and school supplies are varied enough to have something to appeal to all of the age ranges that could need something to get through the upcoming school year, from cartoon and video characters to more mature bags for high school aged students. Lampi said that some years the group also sends bags out to women’s shelters in the district to ensure that there’s something for a child to do in those locations.

Volunteers and Kenora and Rainy River Districts (KRRD) Child and Family Services staff take a moment to show off some of the hundreds of backpacks collected as part of the annual Backpacks for Kids donation drive on Monday morning. The drive has been going since early July and is the first Backpacks for Kids event to happen since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. –Ken Kellar photo

Lampi and Langtry both agree that the Backpack for Kids campaign is a lot of fun to take part in and help organize, but more than that, it’s also a big help to people in need, making it a very important community event to keep around year after year.

“It’s nice to give back to the community and you see it,” Lampi said.

“You see the people who need help. I knew, just by getting my kids ready for school, it’s expensive! And it’s more expensive now than it ever was, so it’s good just to help out the community. This town is so giving, they truly truly are.”

“It was awesome to see all the companies donate,” Langtry added.

“The individuals coming down to the office with filled backpacks, and the girls who did their lemonade stand, it’s nice,” Lampi concluded.

“We have a good community. Everyone pulls together.”