The Backpack Coalition is committed to providing backpacks and school supplies to students with financial constraints, helping to ensure they succeed in school. Each year the coalition distributes almost 5,000 backpacks with grade-appropriate, school-defined supplies to students in grades K-12. This means that every student who receives a backpack has at least 80% of the supplies they need for the school and classroom they are entering. Studies have shown students who have the supplies they need for school have higher attendance, better participation and are happier kids.
Specific to the BMO Volunteer Day, we were responsible for filling pencil pouches with the smaller required items. The bags we were filling were designated to high school students and included items such as pencils, pens, markers, flash drives and erasers. We had two shifts of 20 people. Each shift filled 220 bags for a total of 440 completed pencil pouches. The pouches will be stored until later this summer, when another group will come in to put them into the backpacks along with other valuable supplies.
In addition to filling the pouches with supplies, each group was responsible for making an encouraging card to include in the pouch. This was by far the best part of each shift! It was clear that everyone was taking the time to put extra thought into the notes they were writing. Each person did 10 cards and throughout the shift, people took turns doing more to ensure we had enough for everyone. The heartfelt messages were incredibly moving and showed the goodness of our group.
For me personally, I chose to lead this volunteer activity because I have a passion for financial literacy, learning and giving back to my community. Since I joined the bank over 10 years ago, I have volunteered each year for Junior Achievement and various student-focused opportunities led by the United Way and other organizations to help the youth in our community realize the importance of education and finance.
I know there are many students in my community who, without the help of these programs, would not have the basic things they need to get through a school day, much less an entire year. My hope is that through my dedication, I am able to make a difference in my community and even more importantly, inspire those around me to join in the effort. It is through the people power of volunteering that programs like the Backpack Coalition are successful.
Melissa Ratzburg is the Manager of Pricing Operations for Treasury and Payment Solutions, North America. She is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Melissa is a Montana native and enjoys all things outdoors including running, hiking and playing at the park with her kids.