Initiative Provides Students With School Supplies

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Thursday July 23, 2009 - 09:39:00 AM

The East Bay Community Scholarship Fund (EBCSF) will provide $70 worth of school supplies to 3,500 Berkeley Unified School District K-12 students starting next spring. 

EBCSF’s School Supply Initiative (SSI), launched in March 2008, funds school supplies for students who receive free or reduced lunches. Their goal is to help every eligible student in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond within the next four years. 

Their packages contain items ranging from binders, pencils and highlighters to lunch boxes and tissue packets. 

Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett said the program will be very beneficial to the schools. 

“I think it is wonderful that there is a group that is willing to do something like this,” Huyett said. “It sends a nice message to both students and the schools. To the students, the message is that people care about your education and will help provide you with those tools if you can’t afford them. To the schools, it says that there are people in the community who support education.” 

Benito Delgado-Olson, EBCSF chair and director, said, “Our goal is to serve as many local students as we can,” he said. “There is no city or municipality in the state or in the immediate area that supplies low-income students the tools to take advantage of their education. Once we demonstrate that this is possible on a regional level, we plan to assist other organizations in expanding it to other regions. Students go to school every day without the proper tools to learn. It brings real urgency to the issue.” 

Distribution follows a four-step plan. Once or twice every school year, EBCSF will purchase supplies in bulk through their business partner, “Give Something Back,” then transport them to three storage facilities where volunteers from UC Berkeley will assemble packages of school supplies for all thirteen grade levels.  

Volunteers will distribute the packages at sites throughout city, including James Kenney Park, San Pablo Park and the South Berkeley YMCA. The organization has also set a 5 percent limit on overhead costs. 

EBCSF works in partnership with a UC Berkeley student organization, “EBCSF at Berkeley.” While board members and business staff are unpaid, a few UCB students receive modest stipends, Delgado-Olson said. 

Peter Hsiue, a Cal senior and campus coordinator for EBCSF at Berkeley, said the program is very important for students in the city schools. 

“School supplies are vital,” Hsiue said. “In Berkeley, we knew that school supplies were given out at a smaller scale in the fall, but our supplies drive” provides them to all low-income K-12 students in the fall and spring. “Our partners are very enthusiastic about helping us out.” 

EBCSF at Berkeley currently has eight volunteers who take part in the large-scale assemblies of school supplies twice a year in addition to meeting twice a month. 

“I was approached by Benito, who is a good friend, a couple years ago to lead this group,” said Hsiue. “I like that this effort is new and innovative. It has the ability for us to give back to the community on a larger scale. I hope it succeeds.” 

“We have gotten wonderful responses from everyone at the university,” Hsiue said. “We have even become the primary beneficiary of the Cal Greek Philanthropy Fund.” 

The organization also receives funding from businesses, including Whole Foods of Berkeley and Trader Joe’s, and from the Berkeley City Council and the Associated Students of UC Berkeley. 

“Whole Foods Market Berkeley supported the East Bay Community Scholarship Fund as the recipient of our Bag Refund Donation Program,” said Nick Heustis, marketing and community relations team leader for Whole Foods Market Berkeley.  

“This program rewards our customers with a five cent credit for bringing their own bag, with the option of donating it to a local nonprofit. We chose the East Bay Community Scholarship Fund for several reasons. We were very impressed with the passion and entrepreneurial spirit of their director Benito Delgado-Olsen to make a change in his community.” 

The Berkeley City Council voted 8-1 in June, with Mayor Tom Bates in opposition, to give $10,000 to EBCSF. Bates’ Chief of Staff Julie Sinai said that the mayor voted against a slew of non-profit funding proposals only because the city had not heard back from the state about their funding situation for FY 2009-2010  

In a parallel effort, City Councilmember and SSI Committee Chairman Darryl Moore has also worked with the West Berkeley Businesses Association since 2004 to distribute backpacks with snacks and school supplies to kindergarten and first-graders, but Delgado-Olson said EBCSF’s is the largest scale effort to provide all students in the Berkeley/Oakland/Richmond area with comprehensive school supplies. 

“A lot of programs today don’t address what it means to be poor. This is the first ever effort that I know of to cover every student,” he said. 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín calls the SSI a worthwhile project. “The difference between other efforts and this effort is that the EBCSF is doing it on a much larger scale,” he said. “They are really reaching out to different local organizations. I think that it is a really good program and I hope and think it will be successful.” 

EBCSF’s first pilot program was the SAT/ACT Preparation Course Scholarship Program, where students could receive money to take Kaplan’s standardized test preparation courses. Their next project—which they hope to start by year’s end, will provide low-income East Bay transfer students money to attend an accredited four-year college or university. 

For community members or businesses interested in learning more about the EBCSF or donating to their effort, see their website at: http://eastbaycsf.org/school_supply_initiative.php.