EDMONTON -- A local business is teaming up again with an Edmonton based anti-poverty activist to help give children a positive start to the new school year.

Eight years ago, Dan Johnstone, known as Can Man Dan, began a project to provide food hampers and school supplies to needy families for the new term. He says bringing local salon Shadified onboard five years ago, offering free haircuts, has made the event the biggest charity event of its type in Alberta with over 2,000 families benefitting from the program.

“Families are incredibly grateful and the kids, they get to pick up their backpack, they get to pick the school supplies, pick their favourite cereal and they go back with confidence,” Johnstone says.

“We give them a sharp haircut form then year. So its trendy and they really really appreciate it.”

Salon co-owner Moe Rahall says that having his family business Shadified offer free haircuts has been well received from the start. 

“The first time we did this, at this location, there were about 400 people that showed up,” he told CTV News Edmonton. 

“The second year we did it, it had overgrown to over 2,000 people, and I remember coming in that morning, and it was like wow! I was a little bit in shock and surprised, but that’s how much there’s a need for this in the community.”

Restrictions related to COVID-19 and potential crowding at one Shadified location have forced a new approach. This year, vouchers for haircuts will be valid for two weeks at all five of their salons, giving recipients a choice of time and location near them.

The Can Man Dan Foundation will also distribute 1,000 free backpacks filled with school supplies, and 2,000 food hampers to needy families. 

Johnstone says this year’s program could still use help from generous citizens for supplies and manpower. 

“We’re actually still a bit behind goal, but you can donate online at canmandan.org or call me and I’ll come pick up your school supply donations,” he exclaimed. “And we’re still looking for volunteers.”

For the owners of Shadified Salon, involvement in such a worthwhile venture is a great way to give back. 

“We will be there every single year that we’re around, for this community," Rahall insists.