50,000 Backpacks for Needy Kids

By Nora Fleming — June 21, 2011 1 min read
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For several hours today, volunteers on the National Mall are packing 200 books each minute into backpacks for underprivileged kids who are at risk of losing academic gains from the past school year this summer. By the end of the day, 50,000 backpacks are expected to be assembled to distribute to needy elementary students throughout the country, a total of 150,000 books, which, if stacked, organizers say, would scale the height of the Washington Monument 12 times over.

This undertaking is part of the National Summer Learning Day celebration I mentioned last week, but is also the galvanizing event for the United Way’s national education initiative to recruit 1 million tutors and mentors within the next three years to help reach the goal of cutting the high school dropout rate in half by 2018.

“The turnout today is unbelievable; we’ve got Hill staffers, volunteers from several states, Target employees, and more,” United Way President and CEO Brian Gallagher told me on the phone this morning, in the midst of the event. “I think it’s a pretty great thing that at the center of federal leadership, we’re able to do something for 200 local communities in every state in the U.S.”

This past fall, the United Way launched nationwide research study and poll that found the majority of Americans believe communities need to play a larger role and take more responsibility in improving the quality of education for students. Today’s first call to action for volunteers, supported by Target, is part of a large-scale effort the United Way plans in response to the findings. Those plans include: teacher professional-development support, volunteer recruitment and training, and services to schools and out of school time programs services that will help ease grade-to-grade transitions and keep students in school.

Photo 1: Volunteers pack backpacks on the National Mall
Photo 2: Day of Action volunteers on the National Mall.
Courtesy of United Way Worldwide.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.