For weeks now Sean, an outgoing Surrey fifth-grader, has been gearing up for the moment he can get his hands on his annual backpack. It will be his third one.

“Now I have three rulers,” he says, then quickly corrects himself. “I mean six!” Which is good, because he’s very interested in math.

He’s here this Saturday with his mom, Rose, at Kwantlen Park Secondary for the City Dream Centre’s Back To School event — because they both know, if you’re going to succeed in school, you’ve got to have the right stuff.

“This stuff is not cheap,“ said City Dream Centre founder Loretta Hibbs. “It’s expensive.”

The non-profit organization offers families backpacks filled with school supplies their students need but otherwise might not be able to afford. Those new to Canada and the working poor — anyone in need — are welcome. Year-round, the organization works with Surrey’s inner city schools, connecting families with nutritional support, food hampers, and dental care.

But Saturday's event is all about the stuff.

Hundreds of backpacks containing pens, pencils, notebooks, rulers, and much more line the wall of the gymnasium as excited elementary school kids line up to choose their favourite colour.

In other areas of the school grounds, kids can get a spectacular new haircut from volunteer stylists, perhaps a new pair of jeans or a sparkly manicure. On hand are giant bags of fresh produce to get everyone off to a healthy start.

In the cafeteria, local legend DJ Ali raises the roof, spinning oldies but goodies and high-fiving his admirers. As a parent and community activist, he knows it’s all about connection.

“I really believe that the biggest lesson that people are getting from this is unity,” he said. “This is what you would call a real investment. We’re investing into people, investing into the community.”

Hibbs agrees:

“This organization is about seeing the people who feel invisible — feel visible again.”