The Ross School’s field house at its lower campus in Bridgehampton was crammed with backpacks of all shapes and colors Friday morning. As part of Supplies for Success, an effort to provide school supplies to less fortunate students, volunteers for the New York United Jewish Appeal stuffed book bags full of pencils, markers, crayons, binders, filler paper and a multitude of other necessities so that students across Suffolk County can start school on an equal footing.Mindy Richenstein, the chairwoman for the UJA’s Supplies for Success program, said Friday was the first time in 12 years that UJA has stuffed backpacks in the Hamptons, and that there are certainly families here that need help, too.
“I think a lot of people struggle to put food on the table, and backpacks and supplies can be really expensive,” she said. “I believe there is tremendous inequality—although education is open to everybody, the playing field isn’t really level if you start without school supplies. It’s hard to learn without the necessities.”
A whopping 950 backpacks were filled on Friday, exceeding the group’s goal of 600. And, according to Ms. Richenstein, each bag’s retail value was between $65 and $75, but UJA was able to pack them for under $18 because of the donations it receives.
The bags will make their way, either by pick-up or drop-off, to several different organizations, like the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender youth community center in Sag Harbor and The Retreat in East Hampton, as well as schools in Suffolk County, including the East Hampton School District.
Patrick Molluso of the St. Francis de Sales Parish in Patchogue was perplexed when he realized he had 150 backpacks to take back with him in his small sedan.
“This is a wonderful charitable event,” he said, making his way back to the field house from his packed-up car. He explained that this was also the first time his parish had taken advantage of the UJA’s Supplies for Success program.
The Levin family, from Old Westbury, had volunteered that morning to stuff book bags. Jahn and Sabrina Levin and their three daughters and two nieces explained why it was important to participate.
“It’s important to gather school supplies for those who don’t have them available—it’s a great way to be sure they are ready for the school year,” 18-year-old Melissa Levin said.
Seven-year-old Sarabeth Levin said she had packed 22 bags. “I feel good that I’m helping this charity and helping kids get their supplies in school,” she said.
Pam Kreinces of Dix Hills, who is going into seventh grade this year, said the free supplies will give kids the same opportunities that she has. She said in the past she has seen her peers without certain supplies because they just couldn’t afford them. “I felt bad that I had stuff that they didn’t,” she said. This was her first time participating in Supplies for Success.
Twelve years ago, Ms. Richenstein, a Sagaponack resident, volunteered to organize a drive for UJA’s summer fest, and she decided to gather school supplies. The UJA, a philanthropic organization with 100 agencies across the world, helped 68 kids that first year. The program has grown to help approximately 5,000 kids across the New York City area and Long Island each year.
This year, a total of 350 backpacks and corresponding supplies were donated by the Brooke Jackman Foundation based in Mill Neck.
“Every year, we grow by about 25 percent in how many backpacks we give out,” Ms. Richenstein said about the Supplies for Success program. “In the early years, we probably doubled each year.”
She said she has wanted to bring the effort out to the Hamptons and finally had an opportunity this year when the program secured a packing center at the Ross School.
Volunteer Marilyn Gessin, who is a part-time Westhampton resident, said she couldn’t be happier to help out on the East End.
“It’s nice to be on vacation, but it’s also nice to remember those who need help,” she said. “It’s gratifying to have the opportunity to help others.”