A ballroom inside the Boston Park Plaza hotel became an assembly line Sunday morning with hundreds of volunteers stuffing 2,500 backpacks full of school supplies in less than two hours.
It was a team effort by two local organizations, Cradles to Crayons and Cultural Care Au Pair, which decided to come together to assist displaced families relocating to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico more than a month after Hurricane Maria swept across the island, destroying homes, leaving many areas flooded, and cutting off power.
The Cambridge-based au pair agency’s staff, host families, au pairs, and others associated with the organization provided the lion’s share of the school supplies through its nonprofit Cultural Care Kids First Foundation.
Most of the volunteers were in town for Cultural Care Au Pair’s national conference.
“We decided this year instead of having meetings to do a day of service,” said Susan Robinson, executive director for the Kids First Foundation. “These families are coming with nothing and need our support. They’ve been through something traumatic and heartbreaking.”
“We’re just happy to be able to help,” she said.
Volunteers sitting on the floor and around tables carefully cut fabric to create fleece blankets for students, which they tied around books. Staff wrote notes with warm wishes to be included with notebooks, rulers, and erasers. “Good luck in school,” said one. “You are a star!” said another.
Kristin Manning, a Dedham resident, has family in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Manning, a Spanish teacher and local childcare consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair, is encouraging her relatives to come to Massachusetts. They’re worried about looters and about leaving their homes and jobs behind.
“Even a small event like this, where at least we’re helping the ones who are coming here and transitioning back to school, feels good,” she said.
Officials with the nonprofit Cradles to Crayons said they’re expecting to deliver the backpacks to the Boston Public Schools central office on Monday with a winter gear such as hats, gloves, and coats.
“It’s really about having a child feel normal, just feel like they’re just one of the other kids,” said Dann Vidaña, vice president of program operation for Cradles to Crayons, “in the classroom, on the playground, at home. By providing these essentials to them, they can go to school, they can play, they can do and just learn and be ready for school.”
Boston Public Schools has enrolled about 65 students from Puerto Rico, according to Superintendent Tommy Chang, who thanked the volunteers at the hotel on Sunday morning.
“It’s definitely accelerating,” Chang said of students coming from the island.