Delivering dignity for Hunter students fleeing domestic violence

Not-for-profit charity Friends with Dignity (FWD) has launched its Back To School Drive, which aims to provide 300 Hunter children with items including new backpacks, lunchboxes, drink bottles and stationary including pencils, erasers, glue sticks and exercise books for 2021.

FWD community engagements co-ordinator Catherine Woodbine said the charity supplies the backpacks and resources at the start of and throughout the year to children in refuges, safe houses and still under the care of case workers in other accommodation.

"The aim of the Back to School Drive is to make sure every child from kindergarten to year 12 returns to school in 2021 with everything they need regarding their backpack," she said.

"All of these children that require our help have been removed from their home, so they have had to leave everything.

"It's usually mum, occasionally it's dad, but mum will be under super financial strain and not always able to supply all school needs, so that's why we run the back to school drive and it empowers these kids to turn up at school with everything they need.

"They're not different, they're the same as all the other kids, everyone's turning up with their backpack, lunchbox, drink bottle and while we think that's no big deal, it is for those kids just to be normal, just to fit in."

Ms Woodbine said small items could make a big difference to children whose lives had been disrupted, were perhaps starting a new school and were looking for a semblance of normality.

"It's building their confidence up, they just want to be the same as every other kid around them," she said.

"They've lost everything, they've left everything, they've got nothing.

"Just pulling out their own little drink bottle, their own pencils... it's making them feel comfortable. They're not appearing to be different because they don't have anything."

Ms Woodbine said while FWD asked the community to donate a backpack containing school supplies, it was also grateful for any donations of individual items, however small.

Items needed include pens, lead pencils, highlighters, notepads, pencil cases, coloured pencils, erasers, glue sticks, clear contact, lunchboxes, drink bottles, coloured markers, label stickers, rulers, calculators and crayons.

"We're happy to accept a pencil case, or a packet of textas, it doesn't have to be a full backpack, we do put backpacks together," she said.

"If they're out doing their stationary shopping for their children, just throw in a packet of pencils or glue stick, we will be more than happy to accept that."

Ms Woodbine said local donations will be distributed around Newcastle, Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie. She said FWD aimed to distribute 300 backpacks locally, up from 200 last year.

She said COVID-19 had presented additional and significant hurdles to families fleeing violence.

"We really need to get together now and show these families, these victims, that there is support out there, there's hope out there, there are people they can turn to, there are people who want to help them," she said.

"We need to do this to give them that foot out the door to show them 'Okay I can leave this situation, I'm going to get help, it's out there'. Their local community is behind them."

Ms Woodbine said FWD also works in other areas. It furnishes social or private housing that families move into after they leave refuges; provides bi-annual monetary scholarships to children who have faced domestic violence and fulfils urgent requests, such as baby items to help set up nurseries, removalist costs and driving lessons for a mum seeking independence.

FWD works with the Department of Family and Community Services and organisations including Jenny's Place and Nova for Women and Children.

Donations can be dropped off between now and January 14 at Storage King Hamilton, Maitland Riverside Plaza, Nova Air and Electrical in Tighes Hill and Marketown Shopping Centre.

Any Hunter organisations that would like to donate or become a drop-off point should email



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