Pencils? Check. Glue sticks? Check. Notebooks, folders, crayons, water bottles and other must-have school supplies were all stuffed into brand new backpacks that will soon be distributed to 33,000 Detroit Public School (DPS) students in grades K-8.
Hundreds of volunteers formed an assembly line in the storage area of the Meijer store on Middlebelt Road in Livonia to get the massive packing job done. The three-day effort took place Aug. 12-14.
“To be able to do something for the city of Detroit and help schoolchildren and families who may not be able afford these things is fantastic,” said Alan Rosenthal of Huntington Woods. He volunteered along with his wife, Mara.
“I think about my own kids,” Rosenthal added. “It’s a great feeling to know we’re making a difference.”
The Mike Morse Law Firm donated more than $300,000 to sponsor the initiative dubbed “Project Backpack Detroit.” Last year, the firm handed out 23,000 backpacks to all DPS students in grades K-5. This year, they partnered with Meijer to expand the program, providing backpacks and school supplies to 10,000 more children.
“Meijer sold us the supplies at their cost and helped with logistics, the warehouse, shipping and delivery,” Morse explained. “They’ve been a great partner.”
He says the idea for the project grew out of his passion for justice and fatherly instinct. Morse has three daughters. His two youngest, Ella, 14, and Lexie, 8, were among the volunteers tossing fully stuffed backpacks onto a heaping pile that grew taller throughout the day.
“Some of the teachers who were here told me that only about 5 percent of the children come to school prepared,” he said. “When I heard that, it made me sad and I wanted to do something. I’m all about fairness and winning. I want these kids to be able to win and to level the playing field by providing backpacks and supplies.”
Alycia Meriweather, interim superintendent for DPS, said, “This can be a major game-changer for some students. Being able to start the school year with appropriate supplies is a great first step toward being well prepared for a successful school year.”
The colorful backpacks will be distributed during the first week of school in September. Morse’s goal is to continue to expand the project statewide.
“It’s all about giving back and helping fix this world,” Morse said. “I grew up with Jewish parents teaching me about charity and tikkun olam [repairing the world] and this is my way of doing it.”
To learn more about Project Backpack Detroit, go to 855mikewins.com or call (855) 645-3946.
By Robin Schwartz, Contributing Writer