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UWBA Back-to-School Drive 2022

September 2, 2022

Waymo Employees Volunteering with United Way Bay Area

How School Supplies Helps Families in Need Stay Afloat

4 minute read

School is back in session! This means excitement runs high, as does the anticipation for all the new gear, clothing, and supplies kids will have access to as they enter new grade levels. But for some parents, the stress is also high, as they struggle to get their children what they need. For far too many families across the Bay Area, this time underscores an already tenuous economic reality.

That’s why every year, United Way Bay Area hosts a Back-to-School drive. This allows us to help students and families get the resources they need to be successful. This year, when people are still recovering from the pandemic and finances are sure to be tight, we can hopefully make this time and transition a little more manageable.

This year, we partnered with community organizations and corporate donors to not only collect and pre-pack over 1,000 backpacks with full sets of brand-new school supplies but to also deliver and distribute them in locations where they can be accessed without families having to disrupt their daily routine.

What it Means for Students

“We are so grateful for these backpacks, full of much needed and appreciated school supplies. With the rising cost of food and almost everything else, the help that full backpacks provide to families this year is especially important.” — Judy Schwartz, LCSW,

Places like Fremont Human Services, or UWBA SparkPoint centers, where students on college campuses can receive a variety of support services including coaching, employment, and food & housing assistance, serve as hubs where students receiving other aid can also immediately access school supplies if they need them.

Both Julie Gardner, Director of SparkPoint, College of San Mateo, and Betty A. Geishirt-Cantrell, Senior Director, SparkPoint Contra Costa-West, know the impact even just one of these backpacks can have on a student as they prepare to enter the school year; what it does to their morale and confidence to be prepared and set up to succeed from the beginning.

For Julie, it’s about supporting the whole student. “It feels wonderful to be able to holistically provide the essential support our students need right now,” she says. “On the first day of school, a new student came into our office for support services. At the end, they mentioned they were in need of school supplies for class but could not afford them. In that moment we were able to hand them a quality backpack full of what they needed, and their face just lit up with excitement.”

“Every child deserves to feel good about their return to school.” Says Betty. “Having a new backpack and supplies means that they can feel prepared and proud. How their peers view them is very important to youth. Not being looked down upon because they are bringing school supplies in a paper bag is important.”

Equity From Donation to Delivery

“When the pandemic began, many of our students were unequipped for distanced learning… and many of these children missed out on valuable learning experiences, often falling behind their peers.” – Madeleine Lemos, Communications Manager, Compass Family Services

It’s not enough to just make and receive donations. We need to provide equitable access to these resources if they are to make the impact necessary to offset the financial added financial hardships sourcing school supplies brings. For UWBA that means meeting people where they’re at, in their local communities.

This year provided a special chance for our activated network to see just how time, talent, and resources go from being donated to ending up in the hands of families that need them most. With the help of our partner Waymo, we were able to personally deliver fully stocked backpacks using their autonomous driving vehicles.

“For Waymo, working with UWBA to deliver school supplies lets us directly serve a community where we live, work, and dream,” said Rachel Kamen of Waymo. “Because UWBA has developed longstanding relationships with many nonprofits providing direct service in the Bay Area, they see the big picture and understand how to make donations go a long way and make the biggest impact.”

A small caravan of Waymo vehicles drove through San Francisco, dropping off boxes of backpacks to the main office of Compass Family Services, where they are then placed directly into the hands of the population they serve – students who are either currently, or at risk of, experiencing homelessness.

Madeleine Lemos, Communications Manager for Compass, notes that for the population they serve, these donations mean so much more than backpacks and supplies – they mean breathing room.

“Many of these students are people of color,” she said. “And at a disadvantage within the education system due to structural inequalities. Providing these students with resources like backpacks and school supplies alleviates the financial burden of the Back-to-School season and frees up family funds to be used towards other necessities.”

“When technology companies like Waymo partner with mission-driven organizations like UWBA, we can collectively scale our impact and meet urgent needs – such as the need for school supplies or PPE – at the times they are needed, quickly, safely, and efficiently.” – Rachel Kamen, Waymo

“We are very grateful to United Way and Waymo for the direct delivery of supplies to our main offices at Grove, where many families receive drop-in services, case management, or other forms of counseling.” – Madeleine Lemos, Compass Family Services

Generosity Makes Waves

“Boldt believes that supporting our communities through volunteering is good for both the recipients and participants of volunteer efforts. We are grateful for the opportunity to strengthen our connection with the communities through United Way.” – Sherry Yu, Boldt

Waymo and Compass weren’t our only partners to step up to the plate. So many of our partners pitched in this year to make our 2022 Back-to-School drive a success; companies like Dodge & Cox, McKinsey, Boldt, and Enterprise donated their time and resources to ensure students would be adequately prepared for the new school year.

School supplies in backpacks may not even seem like much, but it’s the seemingly small things that ripple into incredible impact at the right moment. With so many of our Bay Area families rent-burdened, having to spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs, experiencing homelessness, or worrying about how they will get their next meal – it’s the small things that make all the difference.

It’s a reason we come together this time of year and collect resources because it is a small way we can continue to provide basic needs that help break down the root causes of poverty. We believe parents shouldn’t have to decide between keeping a roof over their children’s heads and making sure they are adequately prepared to return to class.

Most importantly, we do it for the kids. To let our Bay Area youth know we see them, we are with them, and we have their backs. Whatever happens in the world outside, students should be able to feel confident, safe, and prepared when they enter school ready to focus on that moment as distraction-free and possible.

If you missed the UWBA annual Back-to-School drive, don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways for you to get involved! We have programs and initiatives helping youth and young adults all over the Bay Area that run year-round, you can support these efforts by donating right now!

United Way Bay Area Backpack Sponsors