Synagogue set to stuff backpacks

Help pack up school supplies to help students at Jordan Community School

A volunteer from North Shore Congregation Israel thought there had to be a better way than stealing for some students at Jordan Community School in Chicago to have the same supplies at the beginning of the year as their classmates.

Operation Backpack was born 13 years ago and continues Sunday, Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. at the synagogue, 1185 Sheridan Rd., Glencoe, with members of the public invited to collect, pack and deliver school supplies. Items will be accepted until Sunday. See the temple's website, for a list of needed items.

Synagogue member Lois Scheyer, a retired product designer, was inspired to become a tutor by former Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, who gave a sermon about the importance of volunteering and how much children need mentors, she said. She noticed at Jordan, where almost all 620 students come from low-income families, that those without supplies stole from those who had them. She enlisted her husband, Stuart, and together they collected money and items "so that everyone would have everything they needed on the first day of school," she said. "That way, there would be no reason to steal from one another."

Operation Backpack is a legacy program, Scheyer said. Student recipients sign a pledge that when they grow up and get jobs, they will contribute to the program so a new generation of students can benefit as they did.

She also enlists the students' parents to give even just $1. "I want them as partners so they felt they are making this possible for their kids, too," Scheyer said.

All of the proceeds raised and school supplies collected for Operation Backpack go directly to the children. Any money not used for supplies goes to the cultural enrichment program that provides students with the opportunity to visit local museums or concerts.

Congregants Chadd Berkun and his wife, Susan, from Highland Park, serve as coordinators of Operation Backpack. The event takes up to two hours, he said.

"(For packers) it's like walking around in a big grocery store. You are given a list for each classroom and you pick those items off a shelf. Then, you seal them in box and put it in a truck that delivers the supplies to the school. It's a very direct way to help make a positive impact on students' upcoming school year."

Scheyer and Berkun note that Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka has collected donations for Operation Backpack since the beginning.

The program "is a nice way to kick off our school year by allowing our families a chance to give back (to a community) in this way," said NSCI Rabbi Wendi Geffen. "From a Jewish standpoint, there is a stated obligation to provide anything that will equalize how a person is treated in the world . There is a foundational assumption that everyone has the right nourishment, everyone has obligation to mobility in society, and education is a tool to providing those things. (With Operation Backpack), our community is doing what it can to assure that those provisions are made."

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