Rachel Weinstein watched as the children left for school, climbing onto the marked “Shelter Bus” with nothing in their hands. The Volunteers of America-Greater NY VP asked someone where the kids’ backpacks were, where their supplies were—but they didn’t have any.
She couldn’t believe it. She vowed that next year, she would start trying to collect school supplies. That’s how Operation Backpack was born. At first, Weinstein’s organization aided around 600 kids, but as the project grew, they received an abundance of donations and began sharing extras with other shelters. Companies began to sign on. The organization gained notoriety.
Today, Operation Backpack outfits the entire city shelter system. Each child who receives a backpack finds it filled with the necessary supplies for their grade range. In order to normalize life for kids in the shelter, Weinstein says that last year they took some children to the supply-sorting space and let them pick their own backpacks and supplies from the donations, as though they were shopping. Operation Backpack even ensures donations are left in the original packaging so kids can have the excitement of opening something brand-new.
And Operation Backpack doesn’t only help children in need of school supplies; it also helps donating or volunteering families form habits of philanthropy. Children as young as 3 years old participate in Sort Week, a time when supplies are sorted and checked for condition, and many families will embark on shopping trips together so they can donate a backpack filled with all new supplies.
Weinstein says generally, donations fall short on some necessities; composition books, academic planners, scientific calculators, and pocket folders, among other items. Donors also tend to donate more often to the younger set, whose supplies also tend to be less expensive, so there’s a need for supplies for kids in grades 5-8 and 9-12.
On Operation Backpack’s website, prospective donors can find the specific supply lists for all age ranges, and can also look for the nearest drop off point once they’ve finished, which may be one of many Duane Reade and Walgreen’s locations. Cash donations can also be made HERE.
When you and your kids go shopping for school supplies, your children should be reminded of those less fortunate, and consider packing a second bag. As Weinstein says; “you’re never too young to begin a tradition of philanthropy in your family.”
Check operationbackpacknyc.org for more information!