For much of this year, the ground floor of the Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York City has played host to a splashy art exhibition that has attracted visitors from around the globe. But for several weeks this summer, something just as noteworthy has been happening in a warehouse two floors above.
Scores of volunteers have been filling brand-new backpacks with fresh school supplies, which will join some 15,000 New York City children on their first day of school. Similar work is also happening around the country as part of Operation Backpack®, a Volunteers of America (VOA) initiative that provides much-needed school supplies to children who are at-risk or living in homeless or domestic violence shelters.
“As an organization, our mission is to break the cycle of homelessness, especially for families,” says Paige O’Brien, manager of corporate and community engagement at Volunteers of America—Greater New York. “Research shows that breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty starts with education.” By giving a child the same supplies as their classmates who aren’t living in a shelter, you can help set them up for success and feel confident and proud, she adds. It’s also one less thing for the parent, caregiver or teacher to worry about providing.
Since 2016, McGraw Hill has been a part of the effort, with employees donating thousands of dollars each year and—crucially for VOA—manpower. This year, teams are working on-site in New York City; Irvine, California; and Columbus, Ohio. A typical shift lasts a few hours, and tasks run the gamut from filling backpacks to organizing supplies to wheeling backpacks to vans that will ferry them to shelters.
While there’s not a lot of downtime in the warehouse, there’s no shortage of joy, McGraw Hill volunteers say. Besides the excitement of seeing your coworkers, there’s also the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing your part to help a child start the school year with confidence.
Here’s what that looked like during a recent afternoon volunteer event in New York City.