Karen and her daughter Jacqueline came to the Material Assistance Program (MAP) on a hot day in the middle of the summer. Jacqueline, who eagerly informed me she was “this many” as she held up five fingers, was about to enter kindergarten at “big girl school.” Karen said she had been talking about kindergarten since her Head Start graduation a month earlier and had become even more excited after seeing commercials on television advertising back-to-school sales. However, as Jacqueline’s excitement increased, so did Karen’s anxiety. She had just moved the two out transitional housing into an apartment and didn’t have the means to purchase school supplies or clothing for her daughter. Karen feared if she was not prepared for school her daughter would lose her enthusiasm for education and drop out just as she had. Fortunately, after referring Karen to a partner agency to find clothing for Jacqueline and reserving her a backpack, her worries were quelled.

Karen and Jacqueline are just two of the 102 individuals that MAP provided with backpacks for the 2013 school year. Between July and September, students--including school-age children of MAP recipients, several individuals enrolled in GED programs and Job Corps, unaccompanied homeless youth completing high school and individuals pursuing higher education--signed up to receive backpacks. For these students school has several benefits; it provides a much-needed sense of stability, offers close relationships they may be lacking otherwise, and boosts self-confidence through their successes. Finishing high school is the single most important step they can take to bring themselves out of poverty. Through our Annual School Supply and Backpack Drive we aim to provide these students with the tools necessary to be an active participants in their education and experience these positive effects.

Loyal MAP supporters brought in donations of backpacks and school supplies throughout the summer, and as the summer came to a close thirteen volunteers from the Boston University First Year Student Outreach Program joined us to assemble the backpacks. The volunteers carefully filled each backpack with school supplies tailored specifically to the needs and preferences of each individual student. “I hope she meant it when she said ‘pink only!’” laughed Sarah, a FYSOP volunteer, after filling a little girl’s Hello Kitty backpack with exclusively pink school supplies. In addition to notebooks, pencils and other basic supplies, young students received extra crayons and coloring books, while older students were provided index cards and highlighters. The volunteers also crafted handmade cards that for each recipient. “Please don’t underestimate the strength you harbor within, you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. You have all the potential in the world to achieve whatever you want! Sincerely, Someone Who Cares” read one card to a high school student. 

Thanks to generous donations from the MAP community we were able to meet the needs of every student who requested a backpack. Throughout the first few weeks of September, students of all ages trickled into MAP to pick up their supplies. On a sunny afternoon Jacqueline and Karen came to pick up Jacqueline’s backpack. While showing Jacqueline her pack, Karen mentioned that her daughter’s excitement over starting school had rubbed off and she had just enrolled in a GED program. I congratulated Karen on her decision to return to school and quickly put together a backpack for her. As she gave me a hug and said goodbye, we heard Jacqueline bounding up the basement stairs of the Meeting House, saying “Come on Mom, we’re going to be late for school!”