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Project Aims To Provide School Supplies To Homeless Kids In SD

School supplies collected for homeless students in San Diego County during the "Drive For Success" held in July 2010.
San Diego County Office of Education
School supplies collected for homeless students in San Diego County during the "Drive For Success" held in July 2010.
Project Aims To Provide School Supplies To Homeless Kids In SD
The annual "Drive for Success Project" provides school supplies including backpacks, books, and food to homeless kids attending school in San Diego County. The project has helped more than 7,000 students since it began in 2009.

2011 Drive For Success
The San Diego County Office of Education's "Drive For Success" is a month-long campaign to collect school supplies for homeless children throughout San Diego County.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

It's getting to be that time of year, when families start thinking about making the annual run for school supplies. New pens and binders and backpacks are showing up as back-to-school sales kick in. But it's also still early enough to make sure that all San Diego students get good school supplies, including homeless students. The "Drive for Success" campaign is underway this month, collecting backpacks, notebooks and pencils for the more than 13,000 homeless students who go to school in San Diego County.



Sophie Lor, represents Foster Youth Services and Homeless Education Programs for the San Diego County Office of Education.

Jennifer Litwak, Regional Task Force for The Homeless

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's getting to be that time of year when families start thinking about making the annual run for school supplies. New pens and binders and backpacks are showing up as back to school sales begin. It's also still early enough to make sure that all San Diego students get good school supplies, including homeless students. The drive for success campaign is under way this month, and here to tell us about it are my guests. Sophie Lor of the foster youth sevens and homeless education programs for the San Diego County office of education.

LOR: Hello.

CAVANAUGH: And Jennifer Litwack is program manager for the San Diego regional task force for the homeless. Good afternoon.


LITWACK: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: Sophie, how many homeless students attend schools in San Diego County? Do we know?

LOR: Our current count right now is up to 13,000 students that have been identified.

CAVANAUGH: And how are they identified as homeless? What's your criteria?

LOR: They are identified by their individual school district liaisons. And students must be in a situation where they're either living in hotels or shelters. They may be students who are doubled up with another family member or relative because of financial leadership where it's caused the family to lose a home. And it can also be students who are unaccompanied, runaways or, students that are living in situations or places where it's not a place for families to live.

CAVANAUGH: The individual districts, basically, report to the office of education to tell you how many homeless students they have?

LOR: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Jennifer, a report came out last month from the U.S. department of housing and urban development describing a 20% increase in homeless families. What are we seeing here in San Diego county?

LITWACK: That's a great question. Our 2011 point in time count, we identified 18% of the total homeless population as being in familial homelessness. That's out of the entire homeless population. We have about 18%. I didn't have the time to go back and compare that to the 2010 numbers, although we do know that I don't have the exact increase, but we did know that there was a slight increase.

CAVANAUGH: An increase. We are all, I think familiar with the idea of homelessness, and we have an image in our mind what a homeless person is. I think we are all intellectually aware that there are homeless kids. But maybe, Jennifer, you can describe a little bit for us the leaderships that home little children face, and the kinds of conditions that they are living in.

LITWACK: That's a great question as well. When we talk about familial homelessness, and the challenge those youth have in terms of education, we do have statistics that show that they're twice as likely to be sick, they also have a greater chance of developing or either having a learning disability. Also we know that sometimes they're malnourished when they're going to school. And that directly impacts their ability to learn with their peers. So we see them performing under those youth that are not homeless.

CAVANAUGH: Sophie, what gave you the idea of starting this drive for success?

LOR: The idea came from my senior director who has done something similar to this. But I had also had some prior experience when I was in northern California, and thought, when I heard that something like this may have been in the works, I made sure that I got involved in it. And I started the planning process of it too to be able to bring to where it is today at this point where we have so many people involved in it now. And just my involvement with the families and the students that I've encountered here this San Diego County has really made me want to do more in the education system where we need to be able to help our students succeed in school.

CAVANAUGH: What do the students receive?

LOR: Students can get a backpack full of binders, notebooks, crayons, pencils, rulers, calculators, hygiene supplies, hand lotion, glue sticks. Lots of various school supply items.

CAVANAUGH: And it's very important, I believe, that these things are brand-new.

LOR: Yes, truly. Because a lot of our student who is have been experiencing homelessness do have -- have suffered from some low self esteem from being removed from their friends, their history, their community. And being able to receive something new like this increases their self esteem and self worth when they go back to school and have new item it is like their peers to be able to start school with.

CAVANAUGH: That are not hand me downs.

LOR: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Sophie, how do the donations get to the children?

LOR: The donations right now are being collected at various sites in the community. And people can any either onto our website at and do a drive for success 2011 search. It will have various sites that individuals can donate to. They can also contact our office at 8585032626, and speak to me, and I can also direct them to where to take them.

CAVANAUGH: Jennifer, I guess I meant to direct this question to you, how do the donations actually get to the questions?

LITWACK: That's a great question. On August†3rd and fourth, wee going to be picking up all the donated slys from the various locations throughout the county, which Sophie just spoke to. Then on August†5th, we're going to be distributing and sorting those supplies with a bunch of volunteers into the various school districts as well as different grade levels within each of those school districts. The homeless liassons are then gonna come pick up the supplies and bring them back to their home school district. And they'll be able to pas out these supplies to the children that so desperately need them.

CAVANAUGH: Are food supplying also being corrected?

LITWACK: Yes, they are. This is the first year, I believe where they're collecting canned food supplies as well. Again, to help with a lot of these children that are presented with food insecurity.

CAVANAUGH: We've heard about kids getting backpacks of food for the weekends, and sometimes for summer time. Are you involved in that as well?

LITWACK: That would be the school districts.

LOR: Uh-huh.

LOR: We are pretty much involved in that, where we have the liaisons complete projections for their students for them to be able to receive those backpacks, and take them over the weekend to further fill the backpack.

CAVANAUGH: You have some stories about kids who've received backpacks from previous drives, Sophie. Tell us about that.

LOR: Yes, we have had stories told to us that when the students have received these backpacks, they were amazed by the items that were donated, the quality of the items, and just that it's brand-new and something that's give to the student. Both from the student and the family, the excitement that they do own something that's new, and it will be theirs to keep. We also have stories that have been shared with us where the student will go to bed with the backpack used as a pillow because, again, they cherish the donation so much that they don't want to part with it. And just the joy of the parents being able to give the kids their backpack, and the first day of school, they feel a part of the crowd, and not feel different from their friends.

CAVANAUGH: Jennifer, in the drive for success, I know that you have some corporate sponsors that are involved in this. Perhaps either one of you could tell me a little bit about the corporate sponsorships you've been able to manage.

LITWACK: We do have several sponsorships starting with the children with their help mission. Kids for kids, and also the regional task force, united way, the coast guards have also sponsored, Macy's department stores, all their sites in San Diego County, the California coast credit unions and their sites, and ely lilly pharmaceutical companies, North County community services, and also the city of Chula Vista housing department have all been part of this organization.

CAVANAUGH: And Macy's is taking a really big step forward. In fact a lot of the employees are asked to donate and also asked to include a little personal note.

LITWACK: Yes. Macy really does an awesome job of getting their student packages together. And they provide inspirational and motivational messages for the families when they actually open the package. And that's been something very inspiring to the student that somebody else cares about them.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Jennifer, you're from the San Diego regional task force for the homeless, as I said. What is your criteria for a homeless youth? We heard from Sophie. Some people are living on couches of neighbors. Do you have a way that you define a child being homeless?

LITWACK: Yeah. So it's a little bit complicated because the San Diego County office of education, they're under the Department of Education. That's a different federal department obviously than U.S. housing and urban development, although we're both functioning under the same piece of federal legislation, Sophie was mentioning those individuals that are precariously housed, such as doubling up, couch surfing, maybe living more individuals to a bedroom than we would typically observe. Under housing and urban development, we identify those individuals that are homeless, including youth, that are literally homeless. So that's residing somewhere that's not meant for human habitation, although we do recognize these other individuals in these situations are very much at risk as well as they need. So that's why we're really excited to be able to participate in the drive for success and help these youth receive the school supplies they need.

CAVANAUGH: What about -- the shelter capacity here in San Diego County as a representative for the task force for the homeless, is there a waiting list for kids to get into shelters?

LITWACK: We do see a lot of waiting lists for the shelters, especially those units that are going to be able to house a family. When we think about the shelter beds that are available, it's going to be for those single individuals. We do have service providers that have beds available for a family. I want to be clear on that. It's just that's not the majority of the beds available. The majority of shelter availability is for individuals.

CAVANAUGH: We talked, Sophie, about corporate sponsorship, and the wonderful partners that you have in this drive. But if people listening want to donate items, tell us again where they should go, who they should contact, and what items should be donated.

LOR: You can contact me again at San Diego County office of education, 8585032626 or visit us on the website at in the search box type drive for success 2011. And you'll see a PDF of all the items that we're requesting. On the list we'll have alarm clocks, backpacks, binders, dividers, binder paper, flash cards, pencils, glue, eraser pens, and. And there's just so many items to Los Angeles. You can visit our website and see the list there.

CAVANAUGH: And where should people donate to?

LOR: Oh, I'm sorry. You can donate -- our office is always open for anyone to drop it off at 8333 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, suite 212 in San Diego. And also at the regional task force. You can donate there. And they are located on canyon -- Murray canyon drive.

LITWACK: Murphy canyon road, 4699 Murphy Canyon Road, we're in the united way building. United way is also participating. And any Macy's or California coast and credit union throughout the county. You can just go in there and drop off your supplies.

CAVANAUGH: That's very interesting. Any Macy's or California coast credit union throughout the county.

LITWACK: Just to add, Macy's is only for employees, but California coast is for the public.

CAVANAUGH: How kid you do last year?

LOR: We did so well last year, we were able to provide for about a little over 7,000 students last year.


LOR: So we're hoping to meet our capacity this year.

CAVANAUGH: But the need is for about 13 --

LOR: 13 this year, yes.

CAVANAUGH: And how's the drive going so far?

LOR: Excellent so far. We've been getting a lot of feedbacks from our sites and the donations are coming in. Our box at our office is full already. We're having to put out another box. I think people are really coming in and we really appreciate that.

CAVANAUGH: If 32 is -- if there are businesses or organizations that want to get involved in this drive, is there any chance of a pickup? Like if they wanted to have a whole group of supplies at their particular office, would it be possible for that to be picked up?

LOR: Yes, definitely. And Jennifer is helping me in arranging those also.

LITWACK: We would love to.


LITWACK: You get the supply, we'll get them where they need to.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both for speaking with me today. I think this is a very, very interesting and really needed donation drive. I've been speaking with Sophie Lor with the San Diego County office of education, and Jen Litwack with the San Diego regional task force for the homeless. Thank you both.

LITWACK: Thank you.

LOR: Thank you.