Backpacks for Kids: Improving the Welfare of Children at the Border

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Backpacks for Kids! is a venture that provides backpacks filled with educational and hygienic materials to children at the United States-Mexico border in order to provide them with a sense of comfort and hope.

The venture began in the summer of 2020 as a culmination of our frustration with the unjust and inhumane conditions at the border. We believe that no child should be dehumanized and mistreated as a result of a nation’s political division and consequent policies. Thus, we felt that we needed to do more than simply read and write about these issues in our courses at Colgate; we felt compelled to take action and create a meaningful organization, so we joined Colgate’s Thought Into Action Incubator to bring our ideas to life. At first, all we knew was that we wanted to do anything we could to help the children at the border who are detained and separated from their parents, forcing them to be independent and self-sufficient in horrible conditions. The idea quickly developed, and we decided to combine our interests in education, social justice, and public health.

We designed a process that would involve gathering monetary and material donations in order to buy backpacks filled with educational materials like activity books, pens, and notebooks as well as hygienic materials like body wash, toothpaste, and lip balm. Then, we met with organizations around the nation with missions that aligned with ours to determine where we should ship our backpacks. We quickly discovered that the ongoing pandemic would make our goals difficult to achieve because many shelters and warehouses were not accepting donations for safety reasons. Despite this setback, we continued to reach out to organizations until we found Gathering Humanity in Arizona, an organization that provides housing and aid to those seeking asylum.

Right now, we are utilizing the funds we gathered from the TIA seed grant, our merchandise sales, and random donations to create and maintain our website, maximize our reach on social media, and order the materials for our first 24 backpacks. The seed grant allowed us to order materials including items such as stuffed animals, activity books, lotion, toothpaste, combs, water bottles, socks, and more; the seed grant will also provide for the costs of shipping these backpacks across the country. We plan to send this first shipment to Gathering Humanity as soon as we receive all of our materials, and they will distribute the backpacks to the children coming to the United States from the United States-Mexico border.

At this moment, there are around 76,020 children stuck in detention centers around the border, and we believe that we can make a difference in some of their lives with our backpacks. Our hope is that our backpacks will brighten the days of children facing the darkest of experiences, offering hope and strength through humanity and kindness. Children at the border have overcome some of the most inhumane circumstances; the least we can do is pack them a backpack. 

Raina Jung ’23, co-founder, director of operations
Jillian Holliday ’23, co-founder, director of outreach
Marie Goodrich ’23, co-founder, director of development
Cecilia Senyk ’23, co-founder, director of marketing
Deanna Michaels ’23, director of fundraising
Allen Quizon ’23, director of technology
Emily Spernyak ’23, director of social media