In 2001, four Dover-Sherborn High School students got together and started Backpacks for kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing children in need with backpacks and school supplies for the upcoming school year.
Their thinking was that, while their families were able to provide all the necessary supplies they needed for school, there were some kids out there whose families were struggling financially and things like rent, heat and food might take for them over pencils, notebooks and glue sticks.
Since that time, the Backpacks for Kids Foundation has been a success, donating 4,829 backpacks (according to their website) to children in need as identified by the Service Councils in the towns of Boston, Natick, Ashland, Needham, Cambridge, Framingham, Wellesley, Dorchester, Worcester, Braintree, Medway, MSPCC and the Department of Social Services in Attleboro. The total estimated retail value of these donations has eclipsed $480,000, as each backpack is worth about $100.
But how has BFK been able to continue on its mission for so long? The original four students (Kaitlin Murphy, Kristen Raymond, Kim Roth and Leslie Wardell) all graduated from DSHS long ago, yet each year a small group of students chooses to take responsibility for Backpack for Kids and continue the work that began 11 years ago.
For the past two years, juniors Sarah Bartholomae and Devon Laidman have been Co-Directors of BFK, setting up the backpacks and all the school supplies in Bartholomae’s basement. Last year they were able to put together 629 backpacks, while this year they’re looking at about 550.
“We both know how it operates,” Bartholomae said. “We just work well together.”
Laidman and Bartholomae sent out fundraising emails in May, and they really got busy in August when they did most of their packing. They also like to talk about the looks they get when they go to places like Walmart and Target and get to the register with shopping carts full of school supplies. They’re organized, with a spreadsheet kept of everything they buy. This way they’re able to keep track of when the sales will likely be next year.
“For me, doing this was a no brainer,” Laidman said. “It’s just such a good cause.”
Bartholomae and Laidman have been involved with Backpacks for Kids since they were in the eighth grade. These days, as Co-Directors, they do the bulk of the work by themselves, with only 4-5 other kids helping out. This keeps things organized.
While they spend an awful lot of team working on BFK, the two high school juniors are both active in other things as well. Laidman is a skier (she’ll be the captain of the high school team this year) and lacrosse player, while Bartholomae is a swimmer and junior representative for New England Swimming.
But much of their time is still devoted to Backpacks for Kids. Dover-Sherborn High School requires that students do 40 hours of community service during their high school careers. Laidman and Bartholomae have more than eclipsed that this summer alone.
“It was never about meeting the 40-hour requirement,” Bartholomae said. “Living in Dover we have opportunity, but there are others who don’t.”