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

A St. John’s charity says its back-to-school program has seen record demand this year and it simply cannot help everyone. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A St. John’s charity reports record demand for services as children prepare to return to class.

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

Sonya Smith, the organisation’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,” Smith said. “But when you’re talking about single-income families, with the cost of living going up and trying to get the kids back to school, trying to get everything they need, it’s hard. for single-parent families.

A woman smiles in an office.
Sonya Smith, executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland, says the organization has closed its waiting list for its back-to-school program after record demand. (Submitted by Sonya Smith)

Smith said there was such a response to the program – from 644 students – that the organization set up a waiting list – and then had to cap it. Smith estimates that an additional 25 to 30 families were put on the waitlist before it closed, adding that those students will also receive the supplies they need.

Smith said the association doesn’t want to close the waiting list to families in need — resources are simply running out.

“There comes a time when you have to say ‘we’ve reached our limit’ in terms of being able to support families this year,” Smith said. “But we have other programs that can help families as well.”

Smith says the organization’s other programs are also seeing an increase in demand, underscoring the struggle of many single parents in the province.

“It’s a clear indication of how many people are actually struggling and how many people are really in need of support,” Smith said. “It’s just amazing.”

Companies are not immune to the fight

Back to school means a St. John’s business is having one of its busiest times of the year while dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corina Byrne, marketing manager at office supplies firm Dicks & Company Basics, says all industries are still grappling with supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

“The supply chain has been a mess since the pandemic started,” Byrne said. “It’s really affected all industries. We’re not immune at all.”

Byrne said increases in freight and fuel costs have forced them to raise the price of all products and services. The pandemic has also spiked demand for paper products, causing major supply issues for items like printer paper.

“At the start of the pandemic, there was a real surge in online orders,” Byrne said. “In the world of paper, all of a sudden there was a huge demand for shipping products, cardboard boxes and so on. Of course, pulp is used for that.”

As the pandemic caused shutdowns around the world, prices for office products rose steadily, while supply continued to shrink.

“All of these factors create this nest of problems in the supply chain,” Byrne said. “It’s just a big river of problems.”

A woman wearing glasses stands in front of a display of pens in an office supply store.
Corina Byrne, marketing manager for Dicks & Company Basics, says the pandemic has caused significant supply chain issues plaguing the industry. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador