When Linda Smith’s children were still in grammar school, she always kept some extra school supplies on hand just in case anyone needed them – a little cache of crayons, notebooks, rulers and pencils to restock their backpacks when the basics ran out.
So when her nine-year-old son came home from school one day and explained how one of his friends carried books and supplies to school in a plastic bag, Smith dug deep into her closet for an extra backpack and filled it with all of the essentials.
“The family couldn’t afford to buy the supplies and my son couldn’t imagine not having a real schoolbag,” Smith said. “The next day he handed his friend one of his old backpacks filled with pencils, a box of crayons, a ruler and two notebooks. I guess it was then that the seed of an idea for helping underprivileged children maintain their dignity by having adequate school supplies began to grow.”
For Smith, who serves as the director of membership for the Staten Island Board of Realtors (SIBOR), the charitable gesture was second nature.
She participated in food, toy and coat drives with her employer every year.
So at the SIBOR Community Service Committee meeting in 2002, she proposed an idea for a school supply drive. She called the effort “Pack to School.”
“It seemed like a logical addition to the many other charitable programs that so many people participate in each year,” Smith said.
The effort started small but resulted in tremendous growth. Realtors were asked to place collection boxes in their offices where agents and the public could make a donation of supplies from a list of needed items. Staples was invited and agreed to participate.
“SIBOR soon became cluttered with hundreds of notebooks, rulers, glue sticks, pens, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers,” Smith said. “Backpacks were delivered to SIBOR on a hot Thursday morning. We spent the afternoon separating and sorting cartons of supplies. Committee members, high school students and volunteers spent an entire day filling each backpack. Over 500 backpacks were stacked and ready for distribution.”
The initial recipient school was selected from a list of Title One schools and on delivery day, a yellow school bus, donated by Pioneer Bus and Transportation Company was loaded up by volunteers from the New York City Fire Department.
“The backpacks practically filled the entire bus,” Smith said. “In the school gymnasium, teachers led students, class by class, to pick up their packs. “The students returned to class with a brand-new backpack filled with supplies, and cookies donated by local bakeries.”
Now 17 years later, with more than 10,000 backpacks donated during its span, Pack to School is one of SIBOR’s largest charity drives.
“Putting the supplies into the backpacks has become a large effort with participation by realtors, family members, students seeking community-service hours and other volunteers,” Smith said. “SIBOR’s relationship with our local schools is ongoing, as we support a variety of school projects and special activities throughout the year, such as: ‘Read Across America,’ field day events and more.”
Six hundred local elementary school students will benefit from the drive this year which Smith now refers to as a fundamentally vital event for the community.
“School supplies are expensive,” she concluded. “But every student needs them to function during the academic year. What might seem like a small donation of pencils and notebooks for some, is actually a very big expense for others.”
If you would like to donate or learn more about “Pack To School,” contact Linda Smith at 718-928-3230. Items may be dropped off at all participating Realtor offices and at SIBOR headquarters: 1150 South Ave., Suite 303, Bloomfield.