On Dec. 15 in a small warehouse in southeast Calgary, Stephen’s Backpacks Society and volunteers kicked-off the organization’s Christmas season finale by distributing 3,000 toy-filled backpacks to children all over Alberta.
The event started at 10:30 a.m. with words of thanks from Stephen’s Backpacks Executive Director Nancy McPhee and speeches from different organizations in both Airdrie and Calgary thanking the McPhee’s and their volunteers for their hard work this season.
“The truth is we couldn’t have done this without all of you,” McPhee said. “I’m truly grateful to have such a generous community with such big hearts.”
Siksika Nation representative Wesley Water Chief said his community is still greatly impacted by the June 2013 floods and so they are grateful for everything they get.
“We are just so appreciative and thankful for this,” said Water Chief.
Behind McPhee were more than 3,000 backpacks waiting to be delivered to YWCA Sheriff King House, Brenda Strafford Society, Lioness Hampers Airdrie and the Airdrie Food Bank, McMan Youth, Red Deer Shelters, The Alex, Calgary Family Services, the Siksika, Piikani, Montana, Stoney and Hobbema Nations, Edmonton Hope Mission, Sophie’s House Regina and Medicine Hat Woman’s Shelter and others.
“We’ve helped (more than) 31,000 children, not including this year’s,” McPhee said.
Stephen McPhee, the inspiration behinds Stephen’s Backpacks Society, made his first backpack when he was eight years old.
In his first year making them, he and the McPhee family made 15 in total. After eight years doing this, McPhee said it’s traditional for Stephen himself to pack the very last backpack of the year for someone special.
This year, she said, his last backpack was made for an Inn from the Cold client with a three-year-old daughter and baby due on Christmas Eve. Stephen and young Stephen’s Backpacks volunteer Ethan Wilson packed children’s clothes, toys and soap into two backpacks together for the family.
“It’s fun to cram things into those backpacks,” Wilson said. “It’s Stephen’s dream that every kid has grass to run on and toys to play with.”
Though it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, the family will also receive a brand new stroller that was donated to the society.
After the last ceremonial backpack was packed, all 3,000 were loaded into volunteers’ vehicles as well as delivery trucks.
Graydon Breitkreitz, Stephen’s Backpacks warehouse manager, on loan from Airdrie’s Real Canadian Superstore, said the warehouse has been full of volunteers and donated items since the end of November.
Over that last month, McPhee said 500 volunteers and 20 agencies have gathered and packed hygiene items, toys, stuffed animals, personal items and keepsakes to be packed and sent off for the society’s Christmas campaign.
She added in addition to the 3,000 backpacks, they are expecting another 800 to arrive between Dec. 16 and 19 from other groups finishing up their collections for the organization.