Local agencies team up to host backpack stuffing event

By: Maddie Forshee | C&G Newspapers | Published July 19, 2018

METRO DETROIT — In Oakland County alone, thousands of homeless youths and children will head into fall without school supplies. That’s why local agencies have teamed up to bring those kids what they need.

The National Council of Jewish Women — Michigan plans to host the Backpack Project, an event to stuff backpacks full of supplies to donate to children in need throughout the county, on July 26.

“We do this because it’s really important for all children to start the school year feeling confident, feeling positive and not feeling any different than any other child going to school,” said Sandi Matz, co-president of the NCJW. “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they should start the new school year without what they need.”

About 50 volunteers will gather at the organization’s Southfield location for the two-day event, which will yield 1,500 backpacks to be donated.

“The first day is setting up supplies, and the second day (volunteers) fill the backpacks,” said Matz. “We have different tables for high school, middle school and elementary. All school supplies are age appropriate.”

Volunteers will fill new backpacks with anything a student would need: notebooks, folders, rulers, markers, crayons, index cards, glue sticks, paper, scissors and much more.

The NCJW works with Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit and the Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program to distribute the backpacks; 1,250 backpacks are donated through Oakland Schools, while the other 250 are donated through JFS’ Family Support Services arm.

“Every cost can be incredibly stressful, and the beginning of the school year brings many costs,” said Dini Peterson, director of family support services at JFS. “Any bit that helps the child and the families we (work with) can make a difference.”

JFS has worked with the NCJW for around seven years, said Peterson.

About $17,000 in supplies are purchased and distributed to the children. Funding for the supplies comes from grants as well as money raised by the NCJW.

“The supplies are all bought by us,” said Matz. “We fundraise all year long and order the supplies — that way, everybody gets the same thing. ... We have funding from within our national (chapter) to pay for the backpacks, and we write grants.”  

JFS and Oakland Schools usually distribute the backpacks to families and students they already work with, but not always.

“What’s surprising to people ... is that there are that many homeless students in Oakland County,” said Matz. “There are. We could probably (fill) 5,000 backpacks and it wouldn’t be enough.”

For more information, visit www.ncjwmi.org/backpack-project.