The Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, an educational agency serving Westmoreland County children, was to serve as the host of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) statewide conference in May 2020.
The theme of the conference “Kindness: The Key to Our Neighborhood” was centered on Mr. Fred Rogers and his emphasis on kindness. As a team-building activity, conference attendees were to assemble backpacks containing hygiene, personal, and comfort items. The goal was to distribute 1,000 backpacks to homeless children within Westmoreland County and across the Commonwealth.
In January 2020, an all-out effort was made to encourage county residents to support the initiative by:
- Making a monetary donation
- Donating any of the following items: Personal Care Supplies, such as travel-sized shampoo/conditioner, deodorant products, bars of soap, dental products, tissues, etc. School Supplies, such as small journals/notebooks, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, etc.
By the March 1st deadline and after, the response was overwhelming! Not only did we have enough money and supplies for each stuffed backpack, we recently donated 45 boxes of extra supplies to Westmoreland Community Action.
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) statewide conference, where the backpack assembly was to occur, was canceled due to the pandemic. With the 2020 conference’s cancellation, the 2021 conference in limbo, and homeless student needs continuing, we decided to internally complete the backpack project and distribute them to the intermediate units located in the western region.
We have allocated 110 backpacks for each intermediate unit (IUs 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 27, and 28). Each backpack contains a bag of toiletries, a bag of school supplies, and a blanket sponsored by Rotary Club #7305. Also, it will contain a personalized note from the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. A majority of the backpacks were purchased through a grant provided by DMJ Transportation. The backpacks will be delivered beginning Wednesday, November 18.
We cannot thank the community enough for their support of this project! Because they played an integral part, students in Western Pennsylvania who become homeless will feel our collective love, compassion, and kindness. This effort shows that Westmoreland County is the true birthplace of kindness.
Why did we focus on supporting students who become homeless?
In 2016-17, 23,000 public school students in PA were homeless at some point during the year (PDE)
300 children had no shelter at all, about 7,000 lived in a motel or shelter, and about 14,000 lived with friends or relatives (PDE)
1 in 30 children in the US (under 18) are homeless (American Institute of Research)
40% of the US homeless population is under age 18 (American Institute of Research)
60% of homeless children spend at least one day per month without food (American Institute of Research)
Children often have to leave their home/shelter quickly and have little time to pack.
Backpacks can be used at school as well as to take supplies between locations.
Backpacks are inconspicuous.
As Fred Rogers so eloquently stated, “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors-in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”