Back to School Means Pioneers Are Back to Work ‒ Packing and Delivering Backpacks

August brings the dog days of summer as well as the last few days of freedom for millions of children — and the dreaded back-to-school shopping.

But for so many families in this country, the reality of purchasing items from a long list of school supplies is a daunting task. For them, providing food or clothing for the family far outweighs buying the shiny new backpack or even crayons and notebooks.

Each year, our network of Pioneers embraces the challenge of helping children go back to school with the supplies they need to learn.

Chapters across the country, from Arizona to Michigan, participate in the Tools for Learning program. The premise is simple. Pioneers work with local districts and counselors to identify those schools with the most financial needs, within low-income communities. Then volunteers answer the call to donate money and time to purchase backpacks and basic school supplies — and then congregate to fill and distribute the backpacks just in time for school to begin, or throughout the year. Office Depot and OfficeMax®support the Pioneers in this annual campaign by offering discounted coupons and school supplies.

Keep on reading to see how some of our chapters work hard to deliver backpacks (and smiles) to thousands of kids, parents and teachers each August.

Getting a head start in Arizona

The Southern Arizona Pioneers didn’t wait until August to plan their contributions to their annual Tools for Learning campaign. Starting in January, the group reached out to school counselors to develop a comprehensive list of supplies needed. With the help of donations from the Pioneers Charitable Foundation and individual volunteers, supplies were purchased, and backpacks were taken home by volunteers and stuffed full of supplies.

This year, the chapter in Tucson has already donated over 210 backpacks and extra school supplies to several elementary schools. The group has also delivered school supplies to rescue missions and other charitable organizations focused on children’s safety and education.

Spreading the wealth across Michigan

The Pioneers in Michigan “do an amazing job of leading the Tools for Learning campaign by raising money and buying supplies to support thousands of students heading back to school throughout the state,” according to David Lewis, president of the AT&T Michigan chapter. In 2018, the group ultimately plans to distribute more than 1,500 backpacks, stuffed with an assortment of school supplies, across Michigan.

In September 2018, the Pioneers presented 50 backpacks filled with school supplies to administrators at Countryside Academy in Benton Township. And in Jackson, Pioneers distributed 100 backpacks at Cascades Elementary school. Teachers and administrators then delivered the backpacks to students in need at the schools.

Raising the bar in Wisconsin

In August 2018, the Milwaukee Pioneers backed up a promise from last year. The group visited nine local schools to donate more than 1,100 backpacks as part of their annual Tools for Learning project. This marked a substantial increase from the 700 new backpacks provided to students at seven schools in 2017!

For some families, shopping for new backpacks and school supplies isn’t always an option. The Pioneers have stepped up to help over 1,000 students have the tools they need to be successful in school,” said Scott T. VanderSanden, president of the Wisconsin Pioneers chapter.

And the schools in Milwaukee are grateful for the donations each year. “Thanks to local organizations such as the Pioneers, our young people in nine schools will receive school supplies, along with the knowledge that community members care about their success,” noted Dr. Keith P. Posley, Interim Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Thinking outside the (back)pack in Florida

Over the years, the Tampa Bay Pioneers have worked closely with local police and fire departments. Recently, the Pioneers fulfilled a wish list for the Resources in Community Hope (RICH) House after-school program in Robles Park. The RICH House, run by the Tampa police department, provides free after-school tutoring and enrichment activities for children who live in Tampa's most challenged neighborhoods. This year, the Pioneers donated dozens of learning materials and supplies to the program, including a DVD player, STEM project-based learning tools, board games and athletic equipment to the program.

Doubling up in Pennsylvania

The Fort Pitt Pioneers participated in not one, but two, backpack projects this year. In addition to distributing basic supplies to several local schools, the group participated in the Blessings in a Backpack program that helps more than 76,000 students in 44 states. The program provides food for low-income elementary school children to take home and eat on weekends during the school year.

Donations are used to purchase bulk food supplies (usually around $2.00 per child per week). Then, every week, a dedicated group of volunteers meets to pack over 500 backpacks with enough (kid-friendly) food for children at several local schools to take home and enjoy on weekends. The chapter has been working with this program for almost 15 years!

Delivering backpacks across the country

  • In New Jersey, the New Vision Pioneers filled almost 200 backpacks to be distributed to several elementary schools in the area.
  • In Canada, Cornwallis Council Pioneers and Bell employees in Halifax, Nova Scotia raised over $3,000 and filled 122 backpacks to support schools and children in their community.
  • In Rhode Island, over 350 school supplies were donated by the New Vision Pioneers to four local high schools.