Wendy Williams, Paige Davis are among supporters of 2019 Operation Backpack® campaign, now in its 16th year

Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) held its annual Operation Backpack® Kickoff Breakfast on Wednesday, June 5 in The Oak Room at The Plaza, with nearly 80 partners in attendance — making it the most well-attended kickoff breakfast to date.

Lending her celebrity to the cause this year is Wendy Williams, host of The Wendy Williams Show, who recently announced a partnership with SNAX-Sational Brands to publicly support Operation Backpack® 2019 and help raise awareness.

In addition, Paige Davis, actress and host of TLC’s Trading Spaces, and VOA-GNY Board Member, has returned once again as the official celebrity spokesperson of Operation Backpack®.

Steven Banks, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Social Services, along with Joslyn Carter, Administrator of the NYC Department of Homeless Services, shared remarks at the breakfast, reiterating the importance of partnerships in tackling the city-wide issue of homelessness – especially family homelessness.

“How do we make sure that children don’t feel left out? How do we make sure that children do not feel devalued and afraid to go to school if they live in a shelter? Something as simple as a backpack makes a big difference,” said Carter. “Partners like VOA are so important. Together, we can make an impact while these families are with us.”

Rachel Weinstein, founder of Operation Backpack® and VP of Communications and External Relations at VOA-GNY, explained how the drive began as a small, grassroots effort that aimed to provide the 700 children living in VOA-GNY's shelters with backpacks full of supplies. Sixteen years later, Operation Backpack® has become New York City's largest back-to-school drive and now outfits the entire shelter system — not just VOA-GNY's shelters — with grade-specific backpacks and supplies. 

"It not only alleviates stress, but actually brings joy," Weinstein said, noting how the culmination of the drive is like Christmas in July for the kids.

Next, a panel of experienced partners shared best practices for running a successful fundraising campaign and clever ways to get colleagues, friends and families involved in supporting Operation Backpack®. The panel included Robin Gamble-Maddrey, Property Administrator at Prologis; Diane Genovesi Manning, Executive Director/Industry Executive, Higher Education & Not-For-Profit Banking at JPMorgan; Noemi Nin, Accounting Manager at Cushman & Wakefield; and Jake Weinig, Founding Partner at Malachite Capital Management.

“My 9-year-old daughter wants to give part of her allowance to Operation Backpack®,” said Weinig, reiterating that it’s never too early to start a tradition of philanthropy in the family. “And she wants to come to Sort Week and get her friends involved, too.”

Delving into logistics, Ginny Martinez, Senior Operations Manager at FedEx, instructed breakfast attendees on how to prepare for backpack pick-ups. FedEx, which has been an Operation Backpack® partner since the beginning, will pick up from any site that has 100 or more filled backpacks to donate — and drop off to VOA-GNY’s Sort Space free of charge.

Last year, Operation Backpack® fulfilled every shelter request it received, delivering backpacks into the hands of every child living in a New York City shelter who needed one – 20,000 children. We anticipate needing approximately the same number this year, and could not hope to meet this goal without the support of everyday New Yorkers along with our corporate and community partners.

Official 2019 Operation Backpack® sponsors include Walgreens/Duane Reade, RXR Realty, FedEx, NYC Department of Education, HarperCollins Publishers and The Weeks Lerman Group.

To learn more or donate to the campaign, visit DonateOperationBackpackNYC.org