Supplies For Success is a Long Island-based nonprofit organization that provides needy children with backpacks full of school supplies, courtesy of its popular Give Back With A Backpack™ program. In light of COVID-19, the organization has now expanded to include CareKits, which are intended to keep kids busy learning, imagining and creating.
Each CareKit includes crayons, construction paper, glue, craft sticks, paint sets, and other art supplies, which are aimed at kids between the ages of three and eight. The kits are being provided via food distributors, such as Island Harvest, and hospitals, such as Northwell Health, as well as food pantries and community centers.
Supplies for Success was founded by Mindy Richenstein in 2002. After losing her 37-year-old son in a skiing accident earlier this year, Mindy established the Eric Richenstein Memorial Fund and is accepting donations from individuals and companies to help fund CareKits for even more children.
Mindy recently discussed her charitable work and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your penchant for charitable causes and how did you establish your organization back in 2002?
Mindy Richenstein (MR): For as long as I can remember, I have felt a deep sense of gratitude for all I had—freedom, loving parents, health, peace, financial security, legal training. With that comes responsibility. Supplies for Success was founded on Long Island in 2002, headed by me under the umbrella of UJA-Federation of New York. Since its inception, more than 100,000 underserved children in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, and Florida have received new backpacks filled with age-appropriate supplies before the first day of school. During the summer, volunteers fill backpacks to distribute to community partner nonprofit organizations, including homeless and domestic violence shelters, health and human service organizations, churches, synagogues, and schools. We grew so much, from 68 backpacks in year one to 17,000 that it was time to launch on our own. In 2019, Supplies for Success became an independent 501(c)(3) public charity.
MM: Since its establishment, how much have you seen the need for your services grow?
MR: The need grows every year because of income inequality; the rich keep getting richer, the middle class keeps shrinking and those living from paycheck to paycheck keeps growing. With the pandemic, the need has increased exponentially.
MM: How did you come up with the idea for CareKits and why did you focus so much on art materials?
MR: The idea was born out of tragedy, just as the Coronavirus was hitting the U.S., my 37-year-old son lost his life in a ski accident on March 5th on the Corona run at Eldora Mountain in CO where he lived. Eric adored his nephew, my 4-year-old grandson, Austin. During the third week of March, Austin’s school in NYC closed. I began to think about all the little kids cooped up in cramped apartments with nothing to do, and their stressed-out caregivers, many of whom had to leave for work on the frontlines. How would these kids be entertained? How would their 4-your-old brains continue to develop and learn? That’s when I thought of arts and crafts supplies! Art materials are great tools for learning, especially for young kids. They learn math, science, decision-making, aesthetics, and creativity. Plus, they are fun! I reached out to our Supplies for Success suppliers. Two of them were in a position to help. So that’s when we pivoted to respond to the pandemic. We started shipping on March 23rd.
MM: How did you connect with distribution partners?
MR: Supplies for Success partners with more than 100 community organizations and schools to distribute the backpacks. We reached out to them. The food distributors were in a position to help. We wanted to help hospital workers so we reached out to their operations and development departments to see if they wanted to receive—they did!
MM: I was very sorry to hear of your son’s recent passing; how do you hope to honor his memory via charity work?
MR: Eric was one of our first volunteers and committed to our mission. He loved little kids and would want to see them happy, which thanks to the pandemic, is now so challenging. Kids can’t do most of their favorite things like seeing friends, going to school, playing outside. We are honoring Eric’s memory by bringing light to the world during these dark days, and particularly to the little kids he was so fond of and patient with.
MM: What has the public response been like and what sorts of artwork have the kids made?
MR: The public has responded with overwhelming gratitude. The kids’ creations are amazing. The smiles on the faces of the kids and the frontline workers tell the story.
MM: How do you hope to expand your offerings in the future?
MR: Supplies for Success, a volunteer-run organization, has grown so much in recent years by remaining laser-focused on our mission and the means we use to fulfill it—engaging volunteers and buying quality products at ultra-low prices in bulk from tried-and-true suppliers. The CareKits have been so well-received that we will likely continue to provide them for young children. We hope to expand the number of kids we serve.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MR: This is the time of year where we would be reaching out for sponsors to help disadvantaged kids with the tools needed to learn, so all kids can start on a level playing field with hope and confidence. We want all American children to be able to access education on a level playing field—at least with the physical tools needed to learn. School supplies have become a luxury for too many families. It’s easy to bring CareKits and Supplies for Success to your community – if in the U.S. Each CareKit is $15. TO HELP, you can TEXT: ERIC4KIDS TO 44321 OR go to: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/supplies-for-success-inc/eric-richenstein-memorial-fund
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