Elliot Lake backback campaign
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Cheryl Finn is currently director of sports tourism at Tourism London, but not too many years ago, she was a young girl going to school in Elliott Lake.
When Finn heard about the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall back in June, she was instantly inspired to do something to help the people, and particularly the children, of her hometown.
The City of London has accepted that challenge and Finn, along with Mayor Joe Fontana and Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher came together on the steps of city hall on Wednesday (Aug. 1) to officially launch the Elliot Lake Backpack Drive. The goal of the drive is to collect backpacks for each of the 1,300 school-age children in Elliott Lake.
“When this happened it obviously, truly touched me. It was quite shocking. Things like that don’t happen in our hometowns,” said Finn, who would quickly reach out to Elliott Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton and other officials to see what could be done to help. “The idea is to have a community celebration, invite the families into the high school gymnasium where the children can choose their backpack and have a really positive experience around back to school.”
Elliot Lake was devastated by the sudden collapse of its main retail mall on June 23. The accident killed two residents and left the community in shock and mourning. The town’s main shopping area remains closed. Finding back to school supplies may be difficult for some.
As part of the drive, London residents are being asked to drop off new, empty backpacks at the city hall lobby, the Western Fair Sport Centre and Tourism London Information Centres downtown and on Wellington Road South.
In helping launch the drive, Fontana also pointed to his own Northern Ontario connections — Fontana grew up in Timmins after his family emigrated from Italy — as well as the long-standing tradition of London residents reaching out to help others in their time of need.
“I like to think of our city as very caring and compassionate. I think we have demonstrated over the years, as late as last year when our friends in Goderich were hit by a pretty devastating tornado; the city of London was the first to step up to help,” Fontana said. “We never forget our roots, where we come from. The fact is, when you lose a major commercial entity like that, especially where people used to gather all the time, and now one month away from school, there are shortages of things kids will need.”
Staples, the business supply chain, has partnered with Elliot Lake to fill every new backpack with school supplies. Finn will help deliver the backpacks when she returns to Elliott Lake on Aug. 24.
In supporting the drive, Usher called this “the opportune time for to do something like this,” adding that while purchasing a backpack may not seem like much of a gesture, it can make a great difference to those in need.
“Kids are always in need and it is coming to the time where they are looking for a backpack to replace last year’s,” Usher said. “If you can’t do anything big, this is something. We are doing this for the kids.”
Both Finn and Fontana said the people of Elliott Lake are still going through many hardships as a result of the disaster. However, they also agreed that residents have a history of overcoming their obstacles and moving forward.
What London residents can do, Fontana said, is just give them a small, helping hand.
“Here is a small way that London, Ont., Canada, and two Northern Ontario people who haven’t forgotten where we come from, this is our way of being able to assist,” Fontana said. “It’s not too much to ask that when you are buying a backpack from your children as they return to school, you think of the people in Elliott Lake, pick up another one, and drop it off.”
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