Back-to-School Campaign Delivers Confidence with Full Backpacks 

Published on August 22, 2023 in

Summer days have begun to dwindle – prompting both parents and children to prepare for school’s return.

“Back-to-school is a new start, a new chapter opening,” said Fiori Conti, associate director of Community Schools initiatives at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “There’s an energy and an optimism at the beginning of the school year, and if you can harness that energy, you can really use it as a good community building tool.”

United Way for Southeastern Michigan is committed to helping children thrive. From setting up more than 20 Little Free Libraries in book deserts, to providing more than 60,000 books through My Home Library Book Fairs in partnership with Scholastic, United Way works hard to increase literacy and ensure children have tools to help them succeed.

At our four Community Schools in Hazel Park, Southfield, River Rouge and Pontiac, wrap-around support services are offered to students and their families. Because education and technology go hand-in-hand, our Community Schools have a 1:1 tech ratio accomplished through the efforts of Tech United, Comerica and Stellantis.

“The key is that we are supporting our student’s growth and success year-round,” said Pamela Todd, director of K-12 education initiatives at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Starting the year off right

With skyrocketing prices across the economy, parents are feeling a much bigger strain on wallets going into the 2023-24 school year.

The National Retail Federation estimates families with children K-12 will spend a record-breaking $890.07 on school supplies.

This is an impossible cost for many ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed) families already struggling to make ends meet.

“With the economy and prices where they’re at, you really have to decide if you are going to get food or school supplies. So, what do you do?” asked Dorris Stokes, a grandmother trying to prepare her two grandchildren for the school year.

Thanks to the Community Resource Fair at Riverside Park in Detroit, Dorris didn’t have to make that choice – she received two free backpacks full of supplies.

The United Way team and its table full of stuffed backpacks offered relief for families. Excited children ran up to choose a backpack designed with either dinosaurs, flowers, outer space, unicorns or solid colors. Families also heard more about 2-1-1, childcare assistance through Connect4Care Kids, and voter engagement resources.

All the backpacks were claimed and more than 100 students were better equipped to start the school year.

“It feels good that he’s got everything he needs for school now,” Brandon Sykes said about his son Santana, who chose an outer-space-themed backpack to start first grade.

“It really helps, it’s one less thing I’ve got to worry about.”

People Power and Corporate Sponsors

Two women packing back packs
Bubly sponsored and UWSEM logo water bottles
Back pack packing assembly line
Woman putting binders and notebooks in backpacks

Over the past three years, United Way has distributed more than 21,500 free backpacks full of supplies to schools and organizations across southeast Michigan.

The 2023 Back-to-School campaign brought together more than 200 volunteers from Rocket Companies, Penske Logistics, Lineage for Good, DTE, Comerica, Ford Motor Company, Detroit Tigers, Riveron, American Axle & Manufacturing, Amazon and United Way to stuff and deliver backpacks. Teams formed an assembly line to fill 5,500 backpacks with pencils, notebooks, crayons, and more items tailored toward the age and grade of the recipients.

Sponsors included the Detroit Tigers Foundation, Bubly and American Axle & Manufacturing. Penske Logistics also sponsored and provided three trucks and drivers to deliver the backpacks to our Community Schools and other locations across the region.

“None of this is possible without people power,” said Kristen Cibulskis, volunteer engagement director at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “We’re so grateful to the organizations who step up to support our effort to give every child an equal opportunity to thrive and who get their team members involved and excited about creating change in their community.”

Confidence with Every Backpack

“The more comfortable kids feel, the more willing they are to sit in a classroom and learn,” Fiori said. “They can be themselves and not feel defensive, withdrawn, or like they have to put defenses up because they are getting picked on for not having what others have.”

Thanks to a program offering free school meals for all, paired with full backpacks from United Way and our sponsors, students will be able to focus more on what they are learning, instead of what they are lacking.

“A child can be more confident when they walk into school knowing that they have the essential things they need to focus in class,” said DeAndrea Rogers, co-lead of the back-to-school campaign and manager of parent engagement at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Porsha Eubanks, principal at Vandenberg World Cultures Academy in Southfield echoed DeAndrea and shared gratitude on behalf of students and parents.

“Vandenburg families are extremely grateful to United Way for the generous donations of book bags,” Porsha said. “These book bags not only carry books and supplies, but also the weight of kindness, support, and the belief in the potential of every student.”

“These thoughtful contributions made a positive impact on our community and helped provide the tools for a successful and inspired educational journey.”

Would you like to get involved and support students heading back to school? Visit our volunteer portal today. Or learn more about our educational initiatives at: Thriving Children – United Way for Southeastern Michigan (