It’s that time of the year again when we start buying our children new backpacks filled with pencils, erasers, folders, notepads and all the supplies they will need for the school year. But each year, thousands of homeless school-aged children go back to school without these supplies, many in schools systems that are already struggling to provide even basic classroom supplies to their children. You can make a difference and it’s easy.
Operation Backpack USA is annual event organized by the Volunteers of America that provide these much needed supplies to children. While the window to donate supplies to this year’s event is over, you can still donate a gift to the event by going to the Operation Backpack site at http://www.voa-gny.org/Get-Involved/Operation-Backpack/default.aspx. This is an annual event so put it on next year’s calendar! In the past I have organized a large drive at work with colleagues volunteering to fill backpacks and carry them to the nearest Duane Reade.
If you would like to help a specific school or class project, Donor’s Choose (http://www.donorschoose.org/) allows public school teachers to list projects and materials that they are in need of. You can browse the site, find a classroom or project, and donate online in any amount. This is great way to help a classroom with a project that you may have enjoyed when you were in school.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey’sTools-4-Schools program (http://www.njfoodbank.org/programs/kids-division/tools-4-schools) distributes free classroom supplies to schools in need. Last year, this program supplied supplies to over 170 participating schools and programs throughout New Jersey. According to their web site, this year they are in particular need of supplies including backpacks, crayons, and colored pencils. Like all of the other organizations, you can also donate to this program directly through their website or drop off the supplies at their warehouse in Hillsdale, NJ.
If you want to get directly involved with students, NY Cares (http://www.newyorkcares.org/) offers a Morning Reading program that allows to read to Elementary School children. It does require a weekly commitment for 3 months, but maybe you can organize a group of people to take different days so that you can share the experience. I have participated in these types of programs before and they have a tremendous impact on children’s lives. For those NYC commuters, volunteering at a NYC school is a simple way to get involved and have an incredible impact on a child or young person's life.
I encourage you to create a culture of volunteerism within your company so that it becomes an expectation of your employer that you and your team are active participants in the community. Most large corporations also have intranet sites that guide you to all types of volunteer opportunities within your community, If you company does not have a volunteer site, most volunteer organizations have searchable database of opportunities on their web site like New York Cares (http://www.newyorkcares.org/) and Volunteers of America (http://www.voa-gny.org/)
Start simple by organizing a drive for your favorite organization among your friends and make it an annual event. Help make the first day back to school for these children a happy one full of markers, colored paper, pens, paper, and everything they need to imagine and express their hopes, dreams, and amazing potential.