New students in Toronto are starting their first day of school with backpacks brimming with school supplies, all thanks to West Park’s Recreation Therapy program and donors.
After an overwhelming response to Recreation Therapy’s Helping Hands program’s call for donations of school supplies in early August, recreation therapy patients from 3 West and 3 East came together over the month to stuff 30 backpacks for the Backpacks 101 project, enough for an entire classroom of students.
The Backpacks 101 project, spearheaded by Toronto teacher Monique D’Sa, was started 12 years ago out of her house, filling a request for 20 backpacks. Since then, the demand – and the response – has grown, and D’Sa will deliver more than 375 backpacks to kids starting school in the city this year.
“It’s great to have people or organizations actually participate in the program by stuffing backpacks themselves,” D’Sa says. “It means that 100% of the donation goes to where it needs to go.”
“It feels really good that we could do something for the kids,” says Lynda McGillivray, a West Park patient who lead the Backpacks 101 initiative in the Helping Hands program. “My deepest heart is with the kids, especially when they can’t afford this. For them to have a fresh start with new supplies, it helps out the parents just as much.”
A few times a year, Helping Hands’ patients bring forth a community project or initiative and collect or make donations; most recently they were crafting dog and cat toys for animal shelters, Mother’s Day gift baskets for the YWCA, and Sensory Aprons for patients with dementia at Baycrest.
“For us here, giving back means we’re not just here getting help, we’re giving help,” says McGillivray. “I don’t have much mobility, so whatever I can do, I want to.”
West Park’s backpack drop off came at just the right time, as D’Sa almost had to turn away a request due to lack to supply. “I was going to have to say no to this person who asked for some backpacks before West Park got involved,” she says. “Every backpack filled is one more that someone wouldn’t have had.”