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Nearly 100 volunteers gathered this morning to help Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) sort and prepare 20,000 brand new backpacks filled with grade-appropriate school supplies. The goal: to ensure that every student experiencing homelessness and residing in NYC homeless and domestic violence shelters as they get back on their feet has an opportunity to start school with every supply they could possibly need.
To date, Operation Backpack®, a community service of VOA-GNY now in its 16th year, has provided more than 180,000 backpacks to students experiencing homelessness. Last year alone, the initiative fulfilled every request it received and provided 20,000 backpacks to students in pre-K through 12th grade.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks; Department of Homeless Services Administrator Joslyn Carter; Tere Pettitt, President & CEO of Volunteers of America-Greater New York; and Rachel Weinstein, founder of Operation Backpack®, and VOA-GNY’s Vice President of Communications and External Relations, were among those in attendance.
Paige Davis, Trading Spaces host and Volunteers of America-Greater New York Board Member and cast members from Broadway’s Mean Girls were also in attendance.
A cavernous warehouse space was filled with mountains of new backpacks – more than 20,000 in all. Rows of tables piled high with hundreds of thousands of back-to-school supplies including pens and pencils; composition books and spiral notebooks; index cards; pocket folders; geometry kits; scientific calculators; dictionaries; USB drives; and other critically-needed items also filled the space. Volunteers – young and old, including members of NYC’s business community, prepared backpacks for distribution.
Pettitt said, “One of our goals with Operation Backpack® is making sure that children who experience homelessness go to school feeling confident and prepared. We want them to look and feel like all of their other classmates. The army of volunteers you see here today understand that. I’d like to thank all our sponsors, partners, volunteers, donors, and everyday New Yorkers who donated beautiful backpacks filled with everything these students need for a successful academic year.”
The average cost to fill a backpack is $87 – a significant expense for families experiencing homelessness. This year, the Operation Backpack® public drive kicked off on July 8 and ran through August 2, 2019. VOA-GNY will continue to accept monetary donations throughout the year.
Weinstein added, “I started Operation Backpack® because I couldn’t fathom the thought of my child getting on the bus to school without even a pencil — which is the reality for so many children who experience homelessness. And 16 years later, as I look out at this room overflowing with backpacks and school supplies, I am so proud that New Yorkers have embraced this initiative so completely! Back-to-school no longer has to be a source of anxiety for the families we serve. I’ve had the pleasure of watching children — year after year — come here and pick out their backpack. They are excited. They are grateful. Really, they are beaming. And we all are a part of making that happen. It’s incredible.”
Operation Backpack® is 100% dependent on support from the community. Here’s how the public can help:
• Donate money that will allow VOA-GNY to purchase, at highly-discounted prices, the critically-needed, grade-specific supplies required to fill all of the empty backpacks that have been donated. Click here to donate: DonateOperationBackpackNYC.org.
• Build a fundraising team on VOA-GNY’s behalf by going to DonateOperationBackpackNYC.org. Ask family and friends to donate.
More than 300 companies and community groups have participated in this year’s campaign. Official sponsors this year include RXR, Walgreens/Duane Reade, FedEx, NYC Department of Education, HarperCollins Publishers, and The Weeks Lerman Group.
For an additional snapshot into Operation Backpack®, please see the link below.
Operation Backpack® Thank You 2018