Karen Johnston has spent upwards of ten hours a day in her garage this summer.
“It almost feels like every backpack I make, I have a connection to them,” Johnston says.
She’s a part of the group called Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education. The organization decided to start collecting items in April for students this fall naming their project Backpacks for Hope.
Johnston says what started out as a small project with her thinking she’d fill about 100 bags, ended up with her garage becoming a make-shift school supply store.
“So far, 565 (backpacks) have been distributed all across the province, all over Winnipeg, Emerson, Souris, Morden-Winkler, all the way as far as Churchill.”
Earlier this spring Manitoba welcomed more than 300 Ukrainian refugees. Since then, organizations continued to see more families arrive, and the need for support has grown.
From loose leaf paper to crayons and even a toy or two, Johnston works to tailor each bag to the individual, even making sure the backpacks are the child’s favourite colour.
“Whether they’re into dinosaurs, dollys or puzzles, make it age appropriate for the child, maybe they’re in to Lego.”
All items have come in by donation from local businesses or residents.
Read more: Ukrainian refugees arrive in Gimli
Johnston’s children go to a Ukrainian bilingual school and her husband is Ukrainian. She says its that connection that made her passionate about collecting donations.
While she doesn’t deliver every backpack to each child, sometimes she says there are exceptions.
“I don’t necessarily have to speak their language because I can see it in their faces, the joy comes through and I can just see how appreciative they are, you know, the joy the happiness, that’s a universal language.”
As of mid-August, she says her garage looks much emptier than it did at the start of the summer. She’s asking for donations to help fulfill all her orders to make sure no child is left without a backpack on the first day of school.
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