Dave Lawrence, who owns That 50’s Barbershop, grew up in Nanaimo and went to Harewood Elementary School.
His mom didn’t have a lot of money and he remembers she cried when he forgot his winter coat in a schoolyard.
Years later and a father, Lawrence understands many parents’ struggles to pay for basic school supplies plus other extras needed for some classes. In 2015 he started Fresh Start, a donation drive to provide children in need with school supplies. Donations are gathered throughout the summer for the annual event in downtown Nanaimo, Aug. 31, when children are given their school supplies and free haircuts.
Last year, thanks to community donations and help from downtown merchants and friends – such as Karly Menzies of Cutting Room Creative Hair Salon, who helps give children free haircuts and styles on the day of the event, Fred Jeffery of Lucid clothing, who organizes the clothes and matches kids and sizes, and Slava Govorov of Panago Pizza, who contributed $1,000 plus free pizza coupons – 143 children were sent to school with backpacks, clothes and supplies. This year Govorov is bringing free pizza for the children, too.
Lawrence got the idea for Fresh Start from an article about a barber in the U.S. who promoted literacy by having children read him stories for free haircuts. Then a friend who volunteers at the 7-10 Club mentioned the numbers of families who come there with their children for meals. Another friend talked about families relying on local food banks.
“It just kind of hit me there’s so many kids having problems,” Lawrence said.
The first Fresh Start was thrown together in three weeks, but has become a larger, better-organized annual event meant to make children feel good about going back to school.
“One of the things I realized, what this does is it creates this very positive feeling about going back to school,” Lawrence said. “I grew up with a single mom and we didn’t have a lot and I remember getting teased about my clothing and things like that. To help these kids have newer stuff, have a new backpack … it’s important for them to feel positive about going back to school and I think this charity helps with that.”
This year Lawrence also hopes people will donate winter clothing.
“Since I’ve started doing this a lot of teachers come in and they tell me that’s one of the saddest things – winter rolls around and kids don’t have winter coats and boots and stuff,” Lawrence said. “The schools end up setting money aside and buying a few coats and stuff for those kids … so if we can get coats and boots, that’s a big thing.”
He wants to provide children with art supplies, too, with whatever donation money is left over after buying basic school supplies. He’s also become aware of other items that don’t normally come to mind.
“The other thing too – perhaps because I’m getting older – I didn’t realize kids need headphones and things for when they want to do computer work. They want to be plugged into their own headphones, so that’s one of the donations we did get this year is a bunch of headphones already, so that’s good,” he said. “And scientific calculators; people, when they think of this, they think of little kids, but there are lots of high school students that come, as well, so you’ve got to kind of think, too, that this is Kindergarten to Grade 12.”
Lawrence hopes Fresh Start will be copied in other communities.
“I don’t mind if someone 100 per cent steals this idea because it’s, like, go do it. It’s such an easy thing to do in your community and it really helps out and is needed,” Lawrence said.
To learn more, make a donation or get involved, visit Fresh Start: Back to School on Facebook or drop off donations at the barbershop at 16A Victoria Cres.