For many children, going back to school usually means receiving a flashy, new backpack and markers, but for some school children these items are a luxury their family cannot afford. Madison and Mackinsey Mascali, 13 and 10, saw this need in Contra Costa County and founded Packs With Love, which gives a backpack full of school supplies to a child who otherwise wouldn't have one.
"Some kids may feel left out at school because they don't have a backpack or school supplies," Mackinsey said.
The Danville sisters started Packs With Love in 2006 and on average donate 300 to 400 packs each year, but this year their goal is 450.
"It is a challenge to get more backpacks, but I know we can do it," Madison said.
This summer, the sisters are issuing a challenge to their peers in the area. The challenge is to take 30 minutes out of their summer and put a pack together along with an encouraging note for a child who may have to stay home all day because their parents are working or live in a shelter where they don't have the opportunity to do other activities.
"When I was planning out my summer I found I had a lot of extra time so I figured other kids would too," Madison said.
The organization has spread mostly through word of mouth by friends, neighbors and schoolmates. Also, they post flyers and send emails to businesses like Office Depot and Target. The Danville Rotary has generously contributed over the years and the sisters save their allowance all year to help buy supplies.
Businesses are encouraged to donate $30 worth of supplies such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, spiral notebooks, glue sticks or rulers when they order pens and paper for their company.
Originally, the backpacks just went to school children in Richmond, but the operation has since expanded to include Shelter Inc., Teen Challenge and Open Arms, an orphanage in Mexico.
"We knew we had to expand because there are so many places in need," Mackinsey said.
Many of the children who receive backpacks in the Richmond School District write thank you notes to show their appreciation to the sisters. Marin Trujillo is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the West Contra Costa Unified School District and has worked with Packs With Love since its inception.
"West Contra Costa has some of the most at-risk youth and there is always a need for help," Trujillo said. "The help is always best when an entity or concerned citizen seeks input from the community to identify the needs and the best way to help, which is exactly what the Mascali girls did."
Shelter Inc. Resource Coordinator Theresita Ortiz has also seen the impact of Packs With Love on the families.
"The families are really grateful to receive backpacks," she said. "This helps them financially; there are so many costs that they have and when you are living on a tight budget all of the extra help counts. The children are thrilled, because this is their own backpack, not a hand-me-down from an older sibling. They are very curious and anxious to open all of the zippered compartments."
While their mother Carol Mascali volunteers at a shelter in San Jose, the sisters wanted a project of their own.
"There are no opportunities in the Valley for kids to volunteer without their parents," Carol said. "Every kid needs a backpack and every kid can help. It is really about kids helping other kids."
In mid-August, the sisters will need help assembling the backpacks. Anyone wishing to help can email them at email@example.com to sign up. Packs With Love can either pick up the backpack or supplies from your porch or you can drop it off at the Stoneridge Shopping Center Guest Services Booth in Pleasanton.