A local campaign to collect school supplies for kids in need is picking up steam.
Darling Downs powerhouse Vanessa Miller has again teamed up with local member Hugh Jones and Perth-based not-for-profit Dandelions WA to make sure every kid can start school with their head held high.
While Australia is blessed to have a free public education system, families of school-aged children know all too well the sometimes eye-watering costs involved in sending kids to school with everything they need.
But Dandelions co-founder Jan Lewsey said she was completely in the dark about how dire the need for school supplies was until a local Aboriginal Elder asked for help.
“For those kids who can’t afford stationery and school equipment for the new year the shame is huge. Many simply don’t go to school for the first few weeks to avoid it,” she said.
During the inaugural Back to School campaign in January 2021, Dandelions WA supplied 220 backpacks filled with stationery, lunchboxes, hats and toiletries to kids around Midland who needed the support.
Demand trebled the next year, with over 1000 backpacks delivered to a much wider catchment. Then over 6000 backpacks were handed out to school kids across the entire length and breadth of the state in 2023.
“Three years later and we find ourselves busier than ever. There’s just so much need, unfortunately,” Jan said.
This year the team was anticipating a demand for 10,000 backpacks, but reality has blown that number out of the water – they have already received requests for nearly 12,000, with more schools expected to ask for help in the lead-up to the beginning of term 1.
Individual schools now register the needs of their students on the Dandelions website.
Around 800 backpacks are currently needed just in the Cities of Armadale, Gosnells, Canning and the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale.
Vanessa Miller was so moved by the Dandelions WA backpack project when she came across it on Facebook three years ago that she threw herself head first into the cause.
“Some kids don’t even have lunch boxes to take food to school. And to think there are kids who can’t go to school because of the fear of being bullied for not having a bag or pencil case. It really touched me. I was raised by a single mother and I know how tough it can be. So, I thought I’d start collecting down here for them,” she said.
Despite being in and out of surgery this time around, she still felt compelled to do it all again when Hugh Jones put the question to her.
Vanessa said she’s been blown away by the number of people willing to contribute to the drive.
“There are people who might even be struggling themselves, but just that one bag makes such a difference to a kid in need,” she said.
Hugh Jones officially kicked the local backpack drive off in December, putting money where his mouth is and personally donating 20 backpacks.
“These have been added to by generous donations made by residents – some to my office and others through Vanessa’s Facebook page, The Gift of Giving,” he said.
“Lisa Gale at Speedy Spanners has also been a huge contributor to this year’s campaign – earlier this week I collected 30 backpacks from her team. When you add it all up, it goes to show the kind of community we live in.
“Each backpack means one less worry for parents readying their kids for the year ahead, and a leg up for our students, and that’s a great result.”
So far this year the pair have counted 60 donated backpacks.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s closer to 100 now. Donations just keep rolling in,” Vanessa said.
With financial pressure at boiling point for many families right now, there is always room for more generosity from those who can afford it.
While backpacks are the thing most in need, other items like library bags, lunch boxes, water bottles, pencil cases, rulers, HB and coloured pencils, sharpeners, erasers, glue sticks, pens, whiteboard and permanent markers, highlighters, scrapbooks and exercise books are all gratefully received.
“Even if people can only give us one thing, it’s going to make a world of difference to a child who needs it,” Jan said.
A full list of essential stationery and toiletry items can be found at www.dandelionswa.org.au/schools
The cost of a complete primary school backpack is $65, while a full high school backpack fitted with a scientific calculator is $70.
Financial donations are accepted through the Dandelions WA Paypal account, and any locally donated items can be dropped off at Hugh Jones’ electoral office at 5/837 South Western Highway in Byford.