Brooklynites gear up for ‘Operation Backpack’

It’s time to go school shopping for the kids, even if you don’t have any.

Thousands of children living in city shelters including more than 4,000 in Brooklyn are in urgent need of school supplies for the upcoming school year. Backpacks, pencils, binders, crayons and notebooks are not cheap, however.

So Volunteers of America is asking you to buy a backpack and school supplies, and drop them off at any Duane Reade or at Borough Hall by Aug. 10.

It’s called “Operation Backpack” and last year the program distributed 8,000 backpacks to 100 shelters in New York City. Roughly 1,200 were given out to children in Brooklyn. This year, the goal for Brooklyn is 4,400 new, filled backpacks.

"My son and I love being a part of Operation Backpack every year,” said Gina Osnovich, who is gathering backpacks and supplies with her son Quinten, age 8. “It's important for him to understand that no matter where you come from or live, we all need the same basic tools. I don't think he always understands that sometimes a kid might not have crayons in class because he couldn't afford to buy them, and this helps him see.”

Osnovich, who works in DUMBO, don’t stick to just one backpack. “We get the neighborhood involved and everyone chips in, we search for sales, and this year we were able to buy and fill 20 backpacks for first through fourth graders that we will deliver next week.”
Arielle Desoucey and Marc Sternagel, volunteers from Accor, push a huge cart of backpacks during last summer’s Operation Backpack effort. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America

“Homelessness has a devastating impact on children’s education,” said Richard Motta, president and CEO of Volunteers of America-Greater New York. “The cost of a single backpack with necessary supplies can easily exceed $100. We strive to bring some normalcy into the lives of these children.”

Shopping lists for each grade level and drop off locations can be found at the Volunteers of America website ( The website also includes a link to an Amazon wish list page so you can buy backpacks and supplies online.

“Our homeless children and youth face seemingly insurmountable obstacles to a quality education, and are more likely to drop out of school and not have the secure, stable environment that a classroom provides,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“Brooklyn Borough Hall is again proud to be a drop-off site for Operation Backpack, and I say bravo to the Volunteers of America-Greater New York and all of their public and corporate sponsors for helping children in shelters.”

“I love sharing this with Quentin because I want to instill that will to do what you can to help,” said Osnovich. “I make sure he does the shopping with me, too, because he knows what's cool for kids his age.”