The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time for most families. It is filled with the anticipation of moving up a grade, having new teachers, making new friends and completing harder assignments with brand new school supplies. Unfortunately, there are many parents who can’t afford a place to live, let alone new supplies for their kids. Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) has launched OPERATION BACKPACK® 2015, its annual drive to collect new backpacks filled with new, grade-specific school supplies for the thousands of children living in New York City’s homeless and domestic violence shelters. Sadly, in 2015 family homelessness is at an all-time high, so the organization’s goal is to provide 20,000 New York City children with backpacks in an effort to instill confidence and hope in the city’s less fortunate students on their first days of school. The public campaign of OPERATION BACKPACK begins on Monday, July 13 and will continue through Friday, August 7.
Since 2001, OPERATION BACKPACK has grown steadily in response to the increasing number of families living in homeless shelters. Although the campaign was started to meet the needs of the children living in Volunteers of America-Greater New York shelters, it has since evolved to benefit children living in shelters run by other providers throughout the city.
Paige Davis, well-known host of TLC’s “Trading Spaces” and OWN’s “Home Made Simple,” and seasoned stage actor (Broadway’s “Chicago,” “Boeing Boeing” and recently the highly acclaimed Theater Works production of “Dancing Lessons”), is a VOA-GNY Board Member and spokesperson for OPERATION BACKPACK. “Each year I am inspired by the enormous effort it takes on the part of Volunteers of America staff to provide this important service, not only to the kids in their shelters but homeless children citywide. There is nothing more heartening than seeing the New York City community, and people across the country, contributing to this effort in support of children’s education. ”
The average cost of a filled backpack is $81, an expense few families living in the shelter system can afford. Receiving a filled backpack relieves parents of a financial burden and provides a sense of stability to the otherwise chaotic lives of their children. A new backpack and school supplies can make the difference between a child being excited to go to school and not wanting to go at all, and a good education helps break the cycle of homelessness Last year, VOA-GNY collected and distributed a record-breaking 18,400 backpacks to children in more than 150 shelters across the city through OPERATION BACKPACK . It is anticipated that at least 160 companies and community groups will participate in this year’s campaign, with 20 new partners signed up to support this important effort.
“It is essential that our students come into school prepared to achieve their full potential,” said the Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, Carmen Fariña. “By providing these important school supplies, Volunteers of America-Greater New York, through OPERATION BACKPACK, is a key partner in helping so many students on to a path to success. I thank them for their tremendous efforts and their partnership to lift up New York City school children both in the classroom and beyond.”
Each year, thousands of members of the corporate community and the general public contribute to the campaign’s success. New backpacks and/or school supplies can be dropped off at select Duane Reade and Walgreens stores in New York City from July 13 to August 7. Additional returning financial sponsors include HSBC and the Duane Reade Charitable Foundation, and major in-kind sponsors include 21st Century Fox, Harper Collins, Time Warner Cable and Weeks Lerman.
Many corporate organizations find holding an OPERATION BACKPACK® drive to be very rewarding. Not only can it fulfill a corporate responsibility requirement, more importantly it promotes engagement in the workplace and builds morale throughout the organization. Fortunately, if corporate or community groups cannot conduct an onsite drive, they can conduct an online drive on CrowdRise.com. The site allows groups to create teams to fundraise virtually. Members of each team rely on networking and commitment to the cause, creating a similar feeling of enthusiasm throughout the office. Individuals can donate to the VOA-GNY team or create their own. The organization is seeking additional sponsors. If your company is interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Returning sponsor FedEx will donate its pick-up and drop-off services to many of the corporate partners. On August 10, FedEx employees will transport thousands of backpacks from participating corporate workplace drives to VOA-GNY’s OPERATION BACKPACK’s sort space, officially ushering in Sort Week. During this time, hundreds of volunteers will prepare the backpacks for pick up. The volunteers will sort the backpacks and supplies according to grade level to help ensure Volunteers of America can deliver them to the children in shelters in time for the first day of classes.
Rachel Weinstein, Vice President and Chief Development and Communications Officer for VOA-GNY and founder of OPERATION BACKPACK said, “We need to do everything we can to ensure the children in our care stay in school and earn a high school diploma, which is essential to breaking the cycle of homelessness. To do this, we strive to even the playing field for these kids and make certain they are prepared.”
Volunteers of America affiliates across the country are conducting OPERATION BACKPACK® drives that will benefit children in many states and major metropolitan areas, for a full listing of participating affiliates, visit the official website.
To print out a list of the supplies required for each grade, please see here. Financial support is vital to the campaign; donations can be made here.
ABOUT OPERATION BACKPACK:
VOA-GNY’s back-to-school program started in 1999 as a small effort to collect school supplies for children in shelters. In 2001, with the support of the corporate community, the effort grew exponentially. In 2004, the campaign was re-branded as “OPERATION BACKPACK®” to reflect its ambitious new goal: to give every child in the New York City shelter system a new backpack filled with grade-specific school supplies. Although it began in New York City, OPERATION BACKPACK® has since been adopted by other VOA affiliates nationwide to help thousands of America’s most vulnerable students get off to a good start at school.
ABOUT VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA-GREATER NEW YORK:
Volunteers of America (VOA) has been at the forefront of social service since 1896. The organization helps individuals and families in need across the country overcome obstacles to live safe, healthy and productive lives. Locally, tens of thousands of men, women and children benefit from Volunteers of America-Greater New York’s life-changing (and often life-saving) work includes helping homeless, families affected by domestic violence, children with special needs, adults living with HIV/AIDS, behavioral health or substance use issues, veterans struggling to find their footing and the frail and/or elderly.