By Tracey Amdur, Camille Dunst, and Jodie Elyachar
It was a mistake. A big one.
Somehow the listing in Time Out New York read, “If you want to pick up a backpack for your child, come to UJA headquarters on Monday.” What the listing was supposed to advertise was a volunteer opportunity at UJA headquarters to pack backpacks as part of our Supplies for Success initiative.
Supplies for Success brings volunteers together to pack backpacks for low-income children, operating under the belief that all kids should start school feeling prepared and good about themselves. Since its inception in 2001, the program has grown from helping 68 children to more than 12,000 last year.Camille Dunst (right) volunteering with her daughter
Before school starts each year, we distribute the filled backpacks through UJA-Federation nonprofit partners, schools, shelters, and other local organizations.
So you can imagine our surprise when parents, with kids in tow, showed up at UJA, saying, “We’ve come for the backpacks.”
We quickly weighed our options. Should we explain the mistake and turn them away? We weren’t set up for backpack distribution. We weren’t set up for actual kids! Our small group of volunteers and staff gathered and had a quick conversation about the core values of UJA, realizing this was a moment to live those values and extend the nurturing embrace of the Jewish community to those in need. It wasn’t what we had set out to do that day, but we knew what needed to be done.Jodie Elyachar (right) with UJA’s Olivia Faden
Anyone who showed up would receive backpacks for their children, no questions asked. We made sure that the families entering the building were greeted warmly and helped through the process, starting with the security team in the lobby. Families were welcomed off the elevator and walked to a waiting area where they were offered refreshments while age-appropriate backpacks were filled for their kids. Forty families in need came to UJA that day, and every single one walked away with the tools every child deserves to succeed in school.
It was the best mistake we ever made.
Tracey Amdur, Camille Dunst, Jodie Elyachar are Manhattan Supplies for Success volunteer leaders.