Volunteers fill 1,000 backpacks for homeless students in Oakland County

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published August 23, 2016

 Leila Giladi, 8, of Jerusalem, Israel, helps pack backpacks Aug. 18 at the NCJW office. Giladi volunteered while visiting her grandmother in West Bloomfield.

Leila Giladi, 8, of Jerusalem, Israel, helps pack backpacks Aug. 18 at the NCJW office. Giladi volunteered while visiting her grandmother in West Bloomfield.

Photo by Sean Work

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SOUTHFIELD — The first day of school is looming, and for some kids in Oakland County, that means going back to class without school supplies.

According to Susan Benson, director of Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Services, one out of every 47 students in Oakland Schools will experience homelessness in their school career.

Suzanne Simon, past president of the National Council of Jewish Women, said giving back to the community stems from a Jewish concept promoting altruism.

“It’s a Jewish tradition: tikkun olam — repair the world. If you see a need, you do it. And that’s what the National Council of Jewish Women does,” Simon said. “We see a community need, and if there’s nothing being done, we step in and we do it.”

In order to prepare homeless students to return to school, volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women and community members met Aug. 18 at the NCJW office, 26400 Lahser Road, to fill 1,000 backpacks with school supplies.

The NCJW is a faith-based volunteer organization that aims to better the lives of families, women and children.

“It’s normalizing,” Benson said of having proper school supplies. “Homeless kids are scholars — they’re in choir, they’re in band, they’re in honors class, they’re AP government students. They’re every other kid in the world. It means they’re able to do exactly what every other kid can do.”

The Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Services program serves homeless students in all 28 Oakland County school districts and ensures that all students are provided with the educational tools they need, from enrollment to community services.

Dede Auster, of West Bloomfield, co-chair of the backpack project, said the NCJW wrote a grant to Oakland Schools for the supplies, which were picked up from Meijer. Some supplies were also donated, she said.

“It means they start the school year fresh, with new supplies, and they’re on an equal basis with every other child,” Auster said. “I think that’s important. I know my kids get excited to open up their backpacks and have new supplies, and I imagine it’s the same with them.”

Last school year, Benson said, Homeless Student Education Services served almost 2,500 students, and they are expecting even more this school year.

Benson said the average age of a homeless person is 9 years old, and that continues to trend lower.

“That means most homeless people are kids,” she said.

Ellie Slovis, a volunteer from Bloomfield Township, said organizers spoke with local teachers for lists of back-to-school supplies appropriate for each age group. Volunteers then divided the supplies and backpacks into three categories: elementary school, middle school and high school.

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