Published July 15, 2016 15:41
Do you remember that nightmare where you’re back in school, and you haven’t done your homework, and everyone is laughing at you, and you wish you could vanish in a puff of smoke?
Well, I relived that nightmare this week when I was humiliated in Winnipeg Harvest’s Tools for School Challenge, wherein we media types went head to head to kick off the food bank’s annual drive to collect school supplies for kids in low-income families.
The way it worked is a gaggle of media personalities was invited to the St. James Staples store, where we were teamed up with young students from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg and ordered to carry out a series of complex, school-inspired tasks.
The first thing each team had to do was obtain their school supplies, which were hidden in brown paper bags on shelves throughout the store. I was paired with Jordan Sabiti, a 14-year-old, football-playing, quick-to-laugh Grade 10 student from Tec Voc High School.
To give us a taste of how uneven the playing field is for low-income kids in the classroom, some of the bags were stuffed with tons of supplies, while some contained next to nothing.
When Jordan and I dumped our bag on the table we were left with nothing but a ruler and a calculator, which come in handy when you need to do basic math or draw a straight line but are not extremely useful when the task involves colouring something or cutting something out or gluing one thing on top of another thing.
The rules of the challenge allowed us to waddle around and try to borrow the supplies we needed, so I spent the bulk of my time drifting over to other tables and loudly whining: "Can I have those (bad word) coloured markers?" Or: "Are you using those (bad word) scissors?"
I also spent a good chunk of time looking for my partner, who couldn’t help but ogle the shiny laptop computers and iPads.
Despite being the two biggest guys in the competition and perspiring more than our rivals, Jordan and I ended up dead last, although the nice folks at Staples still let us press their red plastic "Easy" button to signal we had finally finished the challenge.
Here’s how Winnipeg Harvest communications manager Chris Albi summed up our performance: "We really felt for you, Doug. You were moving at glacier speed and calling out for your partner — ‘Where’s Jordan?’ We still let you press the ‘Easy’ button, but it was a pity press."
A true gentleman, Jordan didn’t blame me for the fact our team didn’t make the grade. "It was very special," he told me, eyeballing some of the high-tech toys. "I had a good partner, but one day I’d like to win an iPad or a computer."
When I asked if he has all the supplies he needs for school, this soft-spoken kid smiled and said: "I have everything I need, but some people don’t. My friend doesn’t have anything. I try to help him out sometimes."
Michelle Schmidt, program director for the Boys and Girls Clubs, said the growing cost of school supplies is a burden for some families.
"It’s a huge need in our city," Schmidt said. "There’s always a big divide between the haves and have-nots. Parents are struggling to put a roof over their kids’ heads and food on the table; school supplies are just that extra burden they don’t know how to provide.
"It’s a basic need. Kids will not show up at school if they don’t have the supplies they need. There’s a stigma — ‘I don’t have stuff.’ Often kids will avoid that situation, and we’ll see lower school attendance."
When she stopped laughing at how poorly I did in the challenge, Albi said the food bank is counting on generous Winnipeggers to buy new school supplies and drop them off at any of the six Staples outlets in the city or in special bins at Winnipeg Goldeyes home games.
"We’ll take cash donations, too, because they will get turned into school supplies," she told me. "This year, we have nearly 5,000 requests for school supplies. It can range from binders to backpacks, from calculators to crayons.
"There are 64,000 Manitobans using the food bank, and 42 per cent are kids. We don’t want people dipping into their food budget to pay for school supplies. We want to make sure every single child has access to school supplies so they can do as well as the kids sitting next to them."
So let’s get out there and donate some school supplies for the kids. I plan to do that right after I finish my homework. Speaking of which, can anyone lend me a No. 2 pencil?