Maria of Yonkers is a single mother with three school-aged children. She was not looking forward to the school summer break. Maria could not take time off from work, and she could not afford to send her children to summer camp. She knew her children would have to remain home all summer and that her food bill would increase because the children participate in the free lunch program during the school year.
United Way of Westchester and Putnam organized the Summer Backpack Program to aid Maria’s family and others. The collaboration-styled program teamed the organization with Feeding Westchester, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, DoorDash, and other local partners to deliver weekly parcels of food, books, and activities to their homes throughout Westchester and Putnam. The Summer Backpack Program allowed the families to have access to healthy foods, and the children to receive new books and tangible crafts and games to engage with for free. Additionally, United Way provided digital activities and ebooks on its website. On the final week of the program, over 1,300 students received backpacks filled with school supplies, so they were ready to start the new school year.
“My family and I cannot thank you enough,” said Maria. “In these hard times, this program came to our life as a blessing, not only for the food, but also for the educational tools that will be useful for this upcoming school year.”
Rosa of Peekskill agreed. “I loved the program because it made it possible to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to my household. Also, the books kept my son actively reading, and the crafts and activities kept him busy.”
The Summer Backpack Program is a component of UWWP’s Education United initiative, providing equity to students from disadvantaged communities by offering support services and resources to help them achieve academic success.
“Studies are showing that the learning loss for students caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was significant, especially for Black and Latino children from economically disadvantaged communities. The Summer Backpack Program allows us to bring the resources to those in need, rather than having them travel to go get it,” said Faith Ann Butcher, Chief Impact Officer of United Way. “This program is a collective effort and would not have been possible without our partners.”
The weekly bags were distributed out of Feeding Westchester in Elmsford, Mount Vernon Public Library, Ossining High School, Peekskill’s Parent Resource Center, and St. John the Evangelist Parish of Mahopac.
Funding for the program was provided by the Louis D Srybnik Foundation, the FORE Foundation, MGM Casino, MVP Healthcare, and the Town of Philipstown. Feeding Westchester and the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley provided the food. In addition, Costco and Fidelis supplied some of the backpacks.
ARC Westchester and the Nicholas Center assembled the weekly learning kits for Westchester families. In Putnam, community volunteers and groups, such as MVP Healthcare workers, the 4H Club, and the Lake Mahopac Rotary Club, assembled the kits and the food parcels out of St. John the Evangelist Parish of Mahopac.
To deliver the parcels, UWWP used its Ride United “Last Mile” Home Delivery program, which launched locally in July 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis, to deliver food and essential goods to vulnerable populations in communities using DoorDash. The Ride United Last Mile Home Delivery program has completed 25,000 deliveries throughout Westchester and Putnam in the past year.
UWWP also provided over 2,000 backpacks with school supplies to children and teens in Westchester and Putnam through nonprofits such as HOPE Community Services, Teens Under Construction, Mount Vernon Boys and Girls Club, Yonkers YMCA, Sharing Shelf, St. John’s Food Pantry of Mahopac, and the Ossining, Peekskill, and Yonkers school districts.