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Airdrie charity sends backpacks across country for Ukraine refugees

Three-hundred backpacks hit the highway on July 29 to make the cross-country trek to Montreal from Alberta to help Ukrainian children in need.
Stephen's Backpacks has shipped 300 backpacks to Montreal to help refugee Ukraine children.

AIRDRIE, Alta —Three-hundred backpacks hit the highway on July 29 to make the cross-country trek to Montreal from Airdrie. 

Local Airdrie charity Stephen’s Backpacks received a phone call from a lady in Montreal asking for supplies to help children refugees coming to Canada from Ukraine. 

“When we got this phone call, it was like ‘Great, this is an opportunity, we can make a little dent. It’s not a lot but it makes us feel like we’ve contributed something to a very ugly situation,” said Nancy McPhee, the executive director of Stephen’s Backpacks, and the mom to 21-year-old Stephen who started the foundation. 

“Stephen just felt sick when [the war] was all over the news,” she added. 

McPhee said preparing the backpacks was easy but the biggest challenge was trying to ship them to Montreal. 

Due to how many backpacks there were and the weight of the shipment, McPhee said it would be an expensive undertaking. A phone call to Highland Moving and Storage solved the problem - they offered to completely cover the cost associated with shipping. 

“[They’ve] been the best corporate sponsor you could ask for,” McPhee said. 

Once in Montreal, an organization will disperse the backpacks to Ukrainian children in need. 

“These kids have lost everything, their country, their home, some of them their parents,” McPhee said. “I’m really excited that we were able to make [the backpacks] happen.” 

Three different categories of packs are being sent over, targeting elementary, middle, and high school-aged children. Using the Rocky View Schools supply list, McPhee ensured the packs will have enough equipment to get them through the school year. 

“We’re going to do what we can and where we can and that’s always been our philosophy,” she said. 

Stephen’s Backpacks has been supplying children in Airdrie and Alberta with goods since 2006.

According to McPhee, the organization started when her then-five-year-old son Stephen had the idea to fill backpacks for those in need after overhearing a conversation McPhee and her husband were having regarding a homeless man in Calgary. 

For 16 years, the organization has been filling backpacks each Christmas for children in need but they have also expanded to furnishing homes for Airdrie residents. 

“We are going to still focus on Christmas Backpacks, that’s really important to us because that’s how it all got started…[but] focus more on trying to furnish homes for families as well,” McPhee said.

A backpack will help a child for six to eight months, while a furnished home will support a family for a lifetime, she added.

So far, Stephen’s Backpacks has furnished 34 homes for Airdrie families. The organization's goal is to furnish four to five homes a year. 

“Stephen, his passion is even stronger now that he’s more mature and understands things that are going on in the world more,” McPhee said. 

To donate or purchase a backpack, visit Stephen’s Backpacks at During Christmas, the foundation is always looking for volunteers and McPhee said they see around 500 volunteers to help fill the backpacks. 

“The little boy who started this when he was five years old in Airdrie is reaching out to kids in Montreal,” McPhee said. “I’ve seen a lot of change and it’s really interesting, the only thing that hasn’t changed is the heart of Airdronians.”