Back To School! Part 2, Backpack Drives

Last week we tackled back to school shopping. We hope that has been going well, and you were able to stick to your End Goal. A reader posted a most insightful comment on that post about the importance of being gender fair when shopping for backpack drives, so we’re dedicating this week to discussing backpack drives. You may recall our focus on family-oriented community service around Thanksgiving and gosh darn it, it’s about time we had another post about service.

From our reader:

A lot of us even without school age kids shop for backpacks and supplies for other kids and teens who are homeless or can’t afford the expensive back to school supplies. It is ESPECIALLY important to be gender neutral here because (1) it is a good idea and (2) if you are donating to a bunch of kids like the YWCA housed kids we work with this maximizes the chance that kids will get a backpack they like and not have to worry about getting one that they feel is sex inappropriate or has slogans that they or their parents don’t like or feel comfortable with.

Yes! This time of year you see backpack drives everywhere — run by local shelters, community centers, and probably also right inside your nearby grocery or big box store. Many large stores, for example, will have a collection box near the entrance/exit where shoppers can donate extra supplies on their way out the door. Other organizations allow you to “adopt” a child who is going back to school and to shop for their list of supplies just like you would your own. Do a little googling for your area and you’ll find many options.

Remember the three obstacles to service involvement that we discussed in our Thanksgiving post about helping others: 1) access to projects, 2) keeping involvement reasonable, and 3) having the tough conversations. Back to school shopping for others easily overcomes all of these.

First, access. We’ve touched on this already. Backpack drives are happening everywhere this time of year. Whether you choose to adopt a child and go whole hog buying everything they need or choose instead to purchase some extra items to deposit in a box at the store, the opportunities to be involved in back to school giving are abundant.

Second, keeping involvement reasonable. This is about keeping community service in bite size chunks that your family can keep up with, so that it becomes part of regular family activities. At Thanksgiving we talked about choosing some annual, seasonal projects. Back to school giving is exactly one of those projects. You’re doing the shopping anyway, so why not grab an extra pack of pencils, or whatever your family can afford so more children can start the year prepared. It’s a great way to involve your children in the decision-making, and to steer them away from whatever they might be coveting for their own start of school purchases. (This means, contrary to our post last week, take your children for this part of the shopping).

Third, having the tough conversations. It can be downright uncomfortable talking to children about all the bad there is in the world. But, no matter how much you ignore it, they see it anyway. Keeping an open dialogue with children about issues like poverty and homelessness is critical to their understanding of those issues. Extremely young children will struggle to understand that other people experience things differently than they do — but keep up the dialogue, they’ll get there. Shopping for back to school supplies for other children is a wonderful way to open up a conversation about poverty and disadvantage. “We’re buying these extra binders so that another child just like you can have what she needs for school this year.”

It’s also an opportunity to start talking openly about all that gender fair business you’ve maybe been doing in stealth mode. Why are we buying the green backpack instead of a Disney Princess backpack? “Well we don’t know this child, and we don’t know if she likes the Disney Princesses. We shouldn’t assume that just because she is a little girl, she likes princesses.” If you need a little more ammo, have your child list their own varied interests, or name a child they know that violates some stereotyped assumption they hold. Again, this is only one opportunity for an on-going conversation.

Screen shot 2013-08-18 at 2.37.40 PMOur reader is spot on. It’s important to be gender fair in buying back to school supplies for backpack drives because you don’t want to be promoting of stereotypes, and you don’t know what they child (or their parents) will like or feel comfortable with. Lucky for you, this is also an opportunity for family community service and formative conversation. I should also mention that even if your child is one of the very unlucky few to have started school already, it isn’t too late to do a project like this. Backpack drives continue all over the country well into September. So head out there with your little ones and enjoy some family friendly service!

Community service is really important to us here at Fair Play. Have a question about how to integrate service into family activities? Leave a comment on our Facebook or Request page and we will be happy to assist. Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter! You can find more Back to School recommendations in our post from last week and in our Amazon Store

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