MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The first day of school will be a little brighter for some underprivileged kids in the Mahopac School District this year thanks to the efforts of the congregation of Temple Beth Shalom.
The temple collected money and used it to purchase backpacks and supplies that will go to 25 kindergarteners in the school district, as well as children of parents who are in the care of the Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center.
Rabbi Sarah Freidson said the idea for the school supply drive was the result of a two-year fellowship she just completed teaching clergy innovation and change-management skills.
“I needed to do an innovation project and mine was called, ‘V’ahavta - The Caring Collectives of Temple Beth Shalom,’ and helping kids was one of those collectives,” Freidson said. “They picked as their project raising money and collecting school supplies for kindergarteners in Mahopac schools. But the congregation was so generous that we had extra money and extra supplies, so we are giving them to the Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center.
“So, the seed for the idea came from the caring collectives which are grassroots task forces all working together,” she continued. “I brought [the idea] to the congregation and they loved it and it’s taken off.”
Congregant Sharon Gunzburg served as chair of the school supply drive committee.
“Not only did we collect money, but we had a trunk set up here in the lobby and our Hebrew school kids came in with supplies to donate,” she said. “So, we had both supplies and money. We set up hours when we would be in the lobby [to collect money] so the parents knew. We had samples of the types of supplies we needed.”
Gunzburg said she received information from the kindergarten teachers about what kinds of supplies were needed. Each of 25 the backpacks contains things like crayons, colored pencils, washable markers, glue sticks, pencils, plastic folders, dry-erase markers, supply boxes, headphones or earbuds, rulers and pocket tissues.
“Plus, there are doubles and triples of everything because people donated so much money,” Gunzburg said. “The Resource Center ages go higher, kindergarten through age 16, so for them we also have folders, composition and spiral notebooks, plus the rulers, pencil boxes, erasers, glue sticks-just about everything that was in the backpacks.”
Ann Ellsworth, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, said she was thrilled and grateful to get the donations.
“Isn’t this beautiful? I am overwhelmed,” she said. “To be able to get school supplies, especially for our youngest just starting out, is really important. It’s for the families of the clients we serve, victims of violence. We have 15 in our shelter right now. It helps them to hit the ground running and be like everybody else. They get to blend in, so they don’t look like they’re not supposed to be there.”
She said their young clients span a wide age range.
“We just had a family leave the shelter, it was a mom plus seven ranging in ages from 18 months to 13 years old,” Ellsworth said. “They had left their house with nothing and had to start over. They have to go to school, so we do backpacks, we do school supplies, sports equipment-whatever the kids need to feel normal. This will go a long way toward that. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but to get it this early definitely helps. Kids like to know that everything is taken care of.”
School Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo was equally appreciative of Temple Beth Shalom’s altruism.
“It is a great partnership through the temple to say we welcome you [to the school district], we support you,” he said. “We are helping you to be successful upon entering the school district.”
DiCarlo said it was the district’s principals who thought the backpacks and supplies should be given to kindergarteners.
“We had a conversation with the building principals, and they all thought it was a good idea to welcome them in that framework in kindergarten,” he said. “It’s great that Rabbi Sarah and her group opened up and wanted to do a partnership with the school district. It’s exciting. To do this for us is great. These items are things that the principals thought would be necessary for the kids to have coming in.”
DiCarlo said the district researched which students would be in most need of the donations.
“We ascertained who might need supplies. Sometimes finances might not be where they should be for parents, so we looked at that and found the kids who might be in the need of a little support,” he said.