The women at the table, touched by the young mother’s experience, knew they had to create something better. There and then they started to sketch ideas out onto a napkin. They imagined a free picnic in the park, with a welcoming, warm atmosphere, where there would be games, face-painting, and food. All members of a child’s family would be welcome to attend, including Elders and drummers and singers. It would be open to any Indigenous families, and at the picnic they would pass out kits filled with school supplies for the young students.
Funding and support were secured from several sister agencies of SCCFS, along with the Indigenous Education department of the local school district. To supplement this funding, volunteers sourced essential donations and sponsors. School supply needs for each grade were determined, the supplies then purchased and a team of volunteers assembled them together in kits.
For the first event, 45 kits were created, and exactly 45 students ended up at the event, amongst a total of 100 attendees. Among the attendees was the young mother who had inspired the event, who came with her children and three older family members.
Since that first event, the Back to School Picnic has grown and expanded. By 2004, over 100 students attended and by 2012 the number was in the thousands. The Back to School Picnic started to be taken on tour in 2010, with events held in Duncan, Nanaimo, Courtenay, Campbell River, Mission, Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Terrace. In 2018, before wildfires and, later, the COVID pandemic limited in-person events, a record 3,500 kits were distributed to Indigenous students.
“The picnic and the school supplies has relieved immense stress at the beginning of the school year,” said Amy Whitney, mother of four. “Having that sense of community and that sense of belonging, and being able to come together to be a part of it has really warmed our hearts and our spirits. My hands go up and my heart goes out to all who put this together.”
From the beginning, the Aboriginal Back to School Picnic has turned to the kindness of donors in order to happen, a truth that remains to this day. In fact, the 2022 event is only being made possible based on donations.