The cost of learning

For many families, school supplies are an unaffordable expense. Tristan Thorpe is trying to help

Most of his friends know Tristan Thorpe as TK. To viewers, he’s an internet news broadcaster on Talking Trends. Others know him for providing weekends with a danceable soundtrack under the DJ moniker “Okay TK.” When school resumed early this fall, local parents and students got to know him as someone who’s there with a helping hand.

Thorpe set up a GoFundMe page with his friend and fellow podcast producer, Tony Makhoul. The two set out to raise $200 for a campaign called Supplies for School. Their goal was to donate school supplies for local families in need. They say they raised $1,500.

Last year, Thorpe and Makhoul challenged themselves to commit good deeds over a seven-day span each month. “It was literally everything from raising money for mental health to just giving sandwiches to those in need on Spring Garden,” Thorpe says.

One of the good deeds consisted of dropping off school supplies at Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank on Maynard Street. The deed went over so well, they wanted to try it again. “I figured it is a super expensive time of the year for a lot of parents and single parents especially,” Thorpe says. “So I was like, let’s see what happens if I put this up on GoFundMe.”

An event at The Pint on Argyle Street raised $600 for Supplies for School. With the combined efforts, they surpassed the original goal. Thorpe was able to buy everything with the donated money. He asked parents what they need and looked for school-supply lists online. He went to Staples, getting backpacks, binders, pencils, and paper.

“For the people I gave bags to…supplies were expensive,” Thorpe says. “They come from different walks of life, their bank accounts are being pulled in all directions.”

Cynthia Louis, client-services coordinator at Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank, says that donations like this are critical. “There are a lot of clients who come here and find themselves in a situation like: do I pay this bill? Do I get food? Or do I buy school supplies? Having school supplies taken care of, alleviates that part of the burden,” Louis says.

Parker Street hosts its own school-supply program each year. The demand is growing but donations are decreasing. This year, the Food Bank served 800 students. The charity started in a one-car garage and stays focused on making sure its donations do what they’re intended to do. “We have to be wise and diligent about how we disperse the funds,” Louis says. “We ask for proof of monthly income and expenses. You have to show that you have a need. We held [the back-to-school program] at the Halifax Forum because our food bank is too small for the amount of people coming here. We are finding that the requests are growing.”

Everything Parker Street does relies on donations. The school-supply program has been running for some 15 years. “It’s very important to have school supplies donated here, you can’t go to work without your tools, you can’t go to school to learn without your pen and paper,” Louis continues. “You’d think a pen and paper would be readily available but not everybody has access to them. Whatever help we get makes a big difference.”

Louis has been working with the charity for about nine years and she has seen real lives change because of it. “Some people are like, ‘Wow thank you, now I can buy my child underwear or now I can pay this bill and get extra lunch for them,” she says. “It shows that our back-to-school program is effective, and that help from people like TK goes a long way.”

Thorpe thinks of it in simpler terms. “I just want to do my little part, use my little platform to see what I can do to help people,” he says. “Once we started doing this, it’s been cool seeing people reach out and be like, ‘Hey how can I get involved in the next Supplies for School?’ It shows that people do care at some point, right?”

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