Later Mom Rachel Weinstein Creates Operation Backpack to Aide Homeless Children in NYC





Public Drive to Collect Backpacks and School Supplies Kicks Off

 July 14th and Continues Through August 8th

Rachel Weinstein, Paige Davis and Spiderman from Operation Backpack 2013

Rachel Weinstein, Paige Davis and Spiderman from OPERATION BACKPACK 2013

Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) will launch OPERATION BACKPACK® 2014, its annual campaign to collect brand new backpacks and school supplies for the thousands of children living in New York City homeless and domestic violence shelters. The drive begins on Monday, July 14th and continues through August 8th. VOA-GNY is one of many VOA affiliates nationwide that conduct OPERATION BACKPACK® drives to outfit homeless students with new backpacks filled with grade-specific school supplies.

A filled backpack relieves parents of a financial burden and provides a sense of normalcy to the otherwise chaotic lives of these children, helping them look and feel more like their classmates. Most importantly, a filled backpack allows these children to start the school year feeling prepared and confident, with the knowledge that their education is important and that someone believes in them.

In a continuing partnership with VOA-GNY, every Duane Reade location in the five boroughs will accept donations of new backpacks and school supplies from the public during the drive. More than 150 companies, schools and other community, civic and religious groups participate in the VOA-GNY campaign, with new partners joining each year.

Beginning July 14th, the public is encouraged to drop off new backpacks and supplies at any Duane Reade store. To print out a list of the supplies required for each grade, please visit  In addition, from July 13-26, Duane Reade will give customers the opportunity to donate at the register, giving the community another way to help and furthering the retailer’s commitment to the most vulnerable children in our city.

Each year since 2001 OPERATION BACKPACK® has achieved tremendous results.  Last year, VOA-GNY distributed a record-breaking 16,100 backpacks. The campaign helps not only the children who reside in shelters operated by VOA-GNY, but also children in shelters run by other providers throughout New York City. In  2013, children in more than 170 shelters benefited from OPERATION BACKPACK®. This year, the need is even greater.  VOA-GNY hopes to fill 16,500 new backpacks with grade-specific school supplies and distribute them to every child in the New York City shelter system who needs one in time for the start of the new school year.

“OPERATION BACKPACK® is one of the simplest and most effective ways in which VOA-GNY addresses the needs of the families we serve, most of whom are homeless,” said Claire Altman, VOA-GNY President and CEO.  “We need to do everything we can to ensure the children in our care stay in school and earn a high school diploma, which is essential to breaking the cycle of family homelessness.”

Rachel Weinstein, VOA-GNY Vice President/Chief Development and Communications Officer, and founder of OPERATION BACKPACK® added, “A new backpack and school supplies can make the difference between a child being excited to go to school and not wanting to go at all.  And with the average cost of a filled backpack hovering around $81, we can relieve the financial burden that many parents face when making decisions for their families.” 

Paige Davis, well-known host of TLC’s Trading Spaces and OWN’s Home Made Simple, and seasoned stage actor (Broadway’s ‘Chicago’ and ‘Boeing Boeing’), is a VOA-GNY Board Member and spokesperson for the campaign. “OPERATION BACKPACK® is one of the highlights of my year. It’s so gratifying to see the corporate community and the generous public come together to ensure these kids have the best possible chance at academic success. It’s inspiring to watch hundreds of volunteers lovingly pack each backpack with everything from pencils and crayons to flash drives and calculators. And when you see the joy on the faces of the children who receive a backpack, you know they will be counting down to the first day of school.”

“OPERATION BACKPACK® plays a vital role in preparing New York City’s children for school each year,” said NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.  “We are thankful to Volunteers of America for its commitment to supporting our City’s students so that they may strive and, with hard work, succeed.” 

“I want to thank Volunteers of America for their tremendous efforts to provide our students with the necessary school supplies that will enable our students to walk into the classroom feeling prepared,” said NYC Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Ensuring that all students have the essential tools for school is paramount so they can be prepared and achieve. OPERATION BACKPACK® has been a true partner in this effort.”

In addition to support from Duane Reade, FedEx donates its pick-up and drop-off services, transporting thousands of backpacks from more than 100 corporate partners. They are sorted by volunteers according to grade level and gender during sort week in August and will be delivered to children in shelters prior to the start of school. Other generous corporate sponsors include: HSBC Bank USA, HarperCollins, Weeks Lerman, Select Equity, Mylan, Time Warner Cable, Van Wagner, and RXR Realty.  Companies and other community groups interested in donating to the campaign should contact Rachel Weinstein at


OperationVOA-GNY’s back-to-school drive began in 1999 as a small effort to collect school supplies for the children in its shelters. In 2001, with the support of the corporate community, the effort grew exponentially.  In 2004, the campaign was re-branded “OPERATION BACKPACK” to reflect its ambitious new goal: to give every child in the New York City shelter system who needs one, a new backpack filled with grade-specific school supplies. OPERATION BACKPACK® is so successful that it is now held in VOA locations across the country.



 Volunteers of America is one of the largest and most effective human services organizations in the nation. Locally, the Volunteers of America-Greater New York affiliate has more than 90 social services programs throughout the five boroughs of New York City, the Mid-Hudson region, Long Island and Northern New Jersey.  Skilled and dedicated staff and caring volunteers bring relief to tens of thousands of the most vulnerable men, women and children every year. From helping families who are homeless secure and retain permanent housing, to preparing preschool children with developmental delays for kindergarten, to providing a full continuum of services to veterans and to youth about to age out of foster care, VOA-GNY’s programs are designed to strengthen individuals and families so that they can live independently.


For more information about Volunteers of America, visit