NYC Public School kids return to their classrooms on September 8. Generally, back to school time is filled with both sadness of summer coming to an end, and excitement regarding the start of a new chapter and connecting with friends. Yet for some of New York’s most vulnerable groups, those living with extreme poverty, returning to school can be altogether unpleasant because of need.

Impoverished children are more likely to battle with the summer slide (a term describing a situation in which children regress during the summer due to a lull in practicing learned skills) and a host of other issues related to their economic status.  In addition, sometimes their caretakers are unable to purchase school supplies, like notebooks, pencils, binders, and the like. This problem is especially keen with those who don’t have homes, as families with children are one of the fastest growing groups suffering from homelessness in the United States. There is a way to help, however, to make sure that all children are equipped with the tools to start school and able to focus on learning rather than what they don’t have.

Donating supplies or funds to organizations dedicated to ensuring children are prepared for school has become more popular in recent years. In  New York City, one such organization, Operation Backpack, has been helping out since 2001; the organization provides New York’s homeless children with new backpacks and supplies every year.

Operation Backpack is a program created by the Greater New York chapter of Volunteers of America : a faith-based charity dedicated to helping underprivileged groups from low income backgrounds, which has been in existence since the late 19th century. With centers in 46 states as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, The Volunteers of America is one of the largest charities in the country, serving 2 million people every year.

Supported entirely by the NYC community (including 200 sponsors), Operation Backpack is an invaluable resource for 18,000 homeless children in New York. With their help, parents can be relieved of concerns related to procuring school items, and children can be confident to enter classrooms alongside their peers.

Removing barriers related to education is one of the best ways we can create a brighter future for our country. As a result, celebrities like actor Kevin Bacon have lent their voice to raising awareness about Operation Backpack’s initiatives. If you’re interested in helping as well, visit their website to find out more information about volunteering, donating and/or fundraising. Every little bit helps.