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Kingston teen helping students in need, one backpack at a time

Katie Onesi with some of the backpacks filled with school supplies through her annual backpack campaign. Submitted photo.

One of the biggest concerns for parents at the beginning the school year is ensuring their child has school supplies. While some can afford to make that happen, some struggle to provide these items. 

Understanding this concern, Kingston teenager Katie Onesi started a backpack campaign to help students with school supplies. It began with a simple realization when Onesi saw someone giving away their backpacks for free on the Facebook marketplace, and she thought about how simple it is to help others. 

“It made me realize that simple, little things like that can affect other people. I don’t have to be rich to help other people, but I could start small and help others,” said Onesi.

Onesi started this volunteer work in 2019, initially only planning to do it on a small scale, donating 25 backpacks with school supplies in the first year. But the following year, in 2020, the response from the community was great, and Onesi was able to raise $2,500 and donated 133 backpacks with necessary school supplies. 

Watching her mother, an elementary school teacher, Onesi realizes how difficult it could be for some parents to arrange for school supplies for their children, particularly if they have multiple children. Some teachers even have to spend money from their own pockets to ensure their students have adequate supplies. 

“I’m very passionate about education, and [I know that] something as small as new school supplies can really excite students,” said Onesi.

The bags usually have pens, papers, notebooks, pencils, markers, rulers, lunch pails, water bottles, and a few other school necessities, depending on the requirement. All of the supplies are packed in new backpacks and delivered to kids who need them.  

This year Onesi is making the campaign more organized and is aiming for more contribution from the community. She has created a GoFundMe page, posted it on her Facebook page, and raised over $500. Besides that, a family friend has generously contributed $1,000, making the total contribution to over $1,500 in just three days since this year’s campaign started. 

“I was going to do something small, and then I had so much overwhelming support that every other person wanted to reach out to me to help out. Last year, I realized I want to go bigger, and I wanted to help as many people as possible,” Onesi shared. “And now it’s my third year, and I’ve got more control on things and have gotten more organized.”

Once the donations are received, Onesi plans to organize a Google form where people can submit the requests for what they need — For example, whether someone needs more feminine, masculine, or more neutral-colored backpacks or supplies, according to children’s needs. The form will also ask questions pertaining to age range in order to pack the bags with appropriate supplies. Once the bags are packed, Onesi will take a couple of days to deliver those to the houses or convenient pickup locations. 

When asked about how she thinks others could be encouraged to help the community, she shared, “I’d say that giving back to others and giving back to your community is really a lot easier than you think. What I do requires money, but obviously, it’s not all from my pocket. If you do something good and other people recognize you for that, they’re going to cheer you on and help you.” 

Onesi, who grew up in Kingston, is going to the University of Ottawa for Health Sciences in French immersion this coming fall. 

For more information on Onesi’s backpack campaign, visit Fundraiser by Katie Onesi : KO Backpack Project Fundraiser (gofundme.com).

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