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The numbers are in! Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) announced today that 19,000 children experiencing homelessness and living in a New York City shelter are going back to school this year with backpacks brimming with every imaginable school supply thanks to the efforts of record numbers of volunteers and community partners who took part in its 16th annual Operation Backpack® initiative.

A community service of Volunteers of America-Greater New York, Operation Backpack® ensures that every child living in a New York City homeless or domestic violence shelter who needs one, gets a new, top-quality backpack filled with supplies that help them start school more confident and prepared, ready to do their work!

Throughout the summer, everyday New Yorkers and a record-breaking 2,200 volunteers and 353 corporate and other community partners contributed to the success of the program by donating money, backpacks, school supplies, advertising space, and thousands of hours of hands-on work packing and quality controlling backpacks in an enormous warehouse space generously provided by RXR Realty. Among this year’s partners and volunteers were VOA-GNY Board Member and Trading Spaces host Paige Davis; cast members from Broadway’s Mean Girls; Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks; Department of Homeless Services Administrator Joslyn Carter; and the New York City Police Department’s Transit Bureau, which collected backpacks inside subway stations and sent officers to the warehouse to quality-control backpacks and help children from one of VOA-GNY’s family shelters pick out their school supplies.

The average cost to fill a backpack is $87 – an expense very few homeless families can afford. The school supplies provided by Operation Backpack® include all the basics plus grade-specific items like watercolor paints, crayons, erasers, glue sticks, and pencils for the younger children, and, for the older students, USB flash drives, geometry sets, scientific calculators, dictionaries, and weekly planners for the older ones.

Operation Backpack® is 100% dependent on support from the public.

This year, generous New Yorkers donated 12,000 filled backpacks to the campaign. Financial donations helped the nonprofit purchase supplies necessary to fill empty backpacks provided by another very generous partner. Official sponsors this year include RXR, Walgreens/Duane Reade, The Weeks Lerman Group, HarperCollins Publishers, and FedEx.

“Education is key to breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Over the years, we have helped nearly 200,000 homeless students prepare for the start of the school year, not only with backpacks and supplies, but with an extra dose of confidence and hope. One of the things that sets Operation Backpack® apart is that we work hard, by using economies of scale, to secure the best prices for high-quality bulk items that we get into the hands of students before the first day of school. The fact that they can walk into their classroom on day one looking and feeling like the rest of their classmates — and not like a child in need — makes for a successful start to the school year. And that could never happen without the generosity, dedication, and support from all those who donated and to our corporate sponsors and volunteers,” said Tere Pettitt, President & CEO of Volunteers of America-Greater New York.

Rachel Weinstein, VOA-GNY’s Vice President of Communications and External Relations, and the founder of Operation Backpack®, said, “Children in the shelter system rarely get anything new so it’s especially exhilarating for them to open everything up and explore all their new and exciting school supplies. Year after year I am lucky to witness these kids picking out their backpacks with such great enthusiasm. These young students are walking into school with backpacks I would put on my own child’s back. This program truly rallies the entire New York City community and each and every donor, sponsor, and volunteer can be proud that they have invested in these children’s futures.”

VOA-GNY is seeking lead corporate sponsors for next year’s initiative. For more information, please contact Rachel Weinstein at or 212-496-4305.