Children at Saratoga got in the back-to-school spirit during a backpack and school supplies giveaway on September 4, the day before the first day of school for New York City public school students.
The back-to-school giveaway was made possible by a series of donations from several HFH partners, ranging from employees at multinational companies to local grassroots organizations.
Employees at Bolloré, a French transportation company, were inspired to create an employee service project benefitting Saratoga after repeatedly passing by the shelter on their way to work at John F. Kennedy International airport.
Back-to-school is one of the busiest times of year for HFH staff to coordinate with other organizations and individuals to ensure that kids and staff are ready for the new school year. This includes drives for new backpacks and school supplies—enough for kids to bring to school and have plenty on hand to do their homework—as well as new and gently used clothing and teaching supplies to supplement the on-site classrooms. This school year, new partners like MyFineMind.org, an organization started by students to ensure that all kids get a quality education, provided teaching materials like microscopes and STEM games, and long-time partners like Volunteers of America and the Brooke Jackman Foundation gave backpacks that included everything from pens and paper to fiction and non-fiction books.
VanRyne Somme III, President of S.C.A.L.E., a Queens-based community non-profit, first became involved at Saratoga while researching local partners to whom S.C.A.L.E. could donate clothing and toiletries.
“I was delivering toiletries at Saratoga and I saw a few kids there,” said Somme, recalling his initial idea for a back-to-school drive.
With the help of five volunteers, S.C.A.L.E. organized the donation of backpacks, school supplies, and teaching supplies to benefit families and teachers at Saratoga.
The results of these effort were on full display at Saratoga on Wednesday, as parents and kids gathered to choose from a diverse array of backpacks—all packed with notebooks, pencil cases, and other school supplies that students will need for their first day of class.
The back-to-school giveaway featured size and supplies options intended for children of all ages, from pre-school to high school. However, this caused some confusion amongst younger attendees.
“What’s this?” asked J, 4-years-old, pointing to a large black backpack filled with his weight in binders, spiral notebooks, and other secondary school supplies.
“It’s a backpack!” replied his older sister. “It’s too big.”
“Well, I want this one,” J said, before pointing to an equally oversized backpack and announcing, “I want this one too!”
Like J, many children in attendance were set to begin class the following day at Saratoga Early Childhood Education Center, which provides high quality childcare to the shelter’s youngest residents.
The young students’ parents found out about the backpack giveaway from Jodi Daniels, Director of Childcare at Saratoga, who expressed excitement about the first day of class.
“On the first day, we do a whole family program with the parents and the kids to help ease the transition,” said Daniels. “The parents get to see how the kids are going to be learning this year through play, and hopefully we’ll alleviate some of the stress parents have on the first day of school.”
Daniels also noted that for many of her Pre-K students, Thursday would be their first day of school ever. This made the backpack giveaway an extra special milestone for them and their families.
“They definitely feel like big kids—they like showing off their backpacks,” said Daniels of the moment when new students wear their backpacks for the first time. “The problem comes when they have the same character—it becomes my Spiderman is better than your Spiderman.”
This was unlikely to be a problem for Daniel’s students after Wednesday’s event, which, thanks to the combined efforts of HFH partners, boasted a broad selection of colorful backpacks, adorned with everything from unicorns and superheroes to paw prints and video game references.
For partners like S.C.A.L.E., Volunteers of America, and Bolloré, the giveaway was the culmination of a summer spent organizing, collaborating, and facilitating new ways to ensure that all New York City students have the tools they’ll need for success in the 2019 school year.
“I believe that every kid should start off equal, going to school. The earlier that you can help the kids, the better off they are,” said Somme, summarizing S.C.A.L.E.’s efforts to promote education and local community. “We have your back—with a backpack.”