September 27, 2023
What began as an endeavor to equip over 2,200 Bay Area students with essential school supplies turned into a remarkable example of what is possible when we come together as a community.
Every year Bay Area students, and their families, face an array of challenges when returning to school. With over 66,000 youth in the region not working or attending school, the importance of promoting equitable access to participation in school has never been more evident. The United Way Bay Area annual backpack drive is just one of the ways we partner to fight poverty in the Bay Area. We use this initiative to help keep youth connected to education and provide school supplies to help ease some of the financial burden associated with learning.
These supplies aren’t just helpful in the tangible sense, but also in that each backpack represents a chance for families to have one less thing competing for their income. It means in many cases they will not have to choose between making sure their basic needs are met and ensuring their students are adequately prepared when they attend.
This year’s Backpack Drive, however, presented a new challenge – delivery. The looming threat of massive shipping delays meant the possibility that students might not receive their backpacks and supplies in time.
The solution was to mobilize a network of dedicated volunteers and community organizations, along with corporate partners. Together, they would not only collect and organize the supplies but personally ensure their safe and timely delivery to students across the Bay Area.
Part of this puzzle was finding a suitable Peninsula-based location to receive the large pallets of backpacks, that would also provide the necessary workspace for sorting, packing, and loading personal vehicles for delivery.
For three weeks, Gwen Leong, UWBA Community Engagement Coordinator, worked to put the pieces together, worried over the potential ripple effects for communities in need should the deliveries not make it on time.
“There were unprecedented setbacks with shipments,” she said. “If kids have to start school without these supplies, that means either the parents will pay for them – which can take a huge chunk out of their limited budget – or they’ll be forced to go without. Often, their teachers will see the need and foot the bill, which then puts teachers in a bind, given their limited income.”
When she reached out to our partners at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in San Jose, they not only understood the urgency, they understood the importance of the cause. They were able to connect us with their Redwood Shores Center, which proved to be the perfect base of operations and staging area to make everything happen.
Once the supplies arrived, a dedicated team of UWBA staff, alongside volunteers, sprang into action. They meticulously processed the backpacks, sorting them into batches and preparing them for dispatch. Each batch was then loaded into personal vehicles and sent to awaiting locations across the eight counties we serve in a single day.
“We wanted to alleviate the stress on our community,” Leong said. “I’m so grateful to The Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, and other members of our team for understanding the urgency and stepping in!”
Thank you to our corporate partners AbbVie, Waymo, Patelco, Enterprise, Cupertino Electric, PepsiCo, SolarEdge, Dodge & Cox, Oracle, and McKinsey for their support. Special thanks to our community partners at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits and all the volunteers that stepped in to make this is successful operation.
Thanks to these collective efforts, school supplies were delivered on time across the Bay Area, ensuring students had the supplies they needed for a successful academic year. Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to all involved, recognizing that it’s these acts of kindness and cooperation that truly make a difference in our communities.
2,200 backpacks distributed in partnership with 17 community partners and 10 corporate partners! That’s how we take steps closer to dismantling the root causes of poverty in the Bay Area.