Local Bookstore Helps in Backpack Drive

It’s a Sunday morning in August and the Robinson Park Recreation Center on North Fair Oaks Avenue is bustling with activity. Inside the facility’s gymnasium and community room, which have been temporarily outfitted with barber chairs, hundreds of young children start their final day of summer by receiving free haircuts and backpacks filled with school supplies. Known as the Michael Bryant Free Haircut and Back-to-School Event, the program seeks to prepare underserved Pasadena Unified School District students — both academically and physically — for a new year of classes.
Behind the scenes, an important partnership within the local community is responsible for the success of the 28th annual event, which the city of Pasadena’s Human Services and Recreation Department hosted. Collaborating with the department is Sydney Paige Inc., an online school supply retailer that focuses on giving back to those in need. Through Sydney Paige’s Buy One/Give One program, every backpack purchased on the site resulted in a backpack donation to the city of Pasadena.
“Our dream is that every child in the country would have the tools they need to learn and thrive in school,” said Sydney Paige Marketing Manager Ann Wohlstetter, a Pasadena resident. “That starts with a backpack filled with school supplies, because if you don’t have those things, it’s tough.”
Last month, Sydney Paige promoted a call to action that sought 300 backpack donations for Pasadena children, a goal that was reached in time for the event. As the K-6 students completed their haircuts, each received new, brightly colored backpacks with age-appropriate school supplies to take home.
“It just speaks volumes about the kindness of our community in terms of how [residents] want to give back,” said Horace Wormely, director of the Human Services and Recreation Department. “We want to make certain that our young people get off to a good start to the school year.”
Wormely and Wohlstetter weren’t the only ones who felt this way about PUSD students. In La Cañada Flintridge, Sydney Paige backpacks have graced the entry display at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse for the past three years. The Buy One/Give One program is currently valid at the store, which has partnered with Wormely’s department across the Arroyo.
“The mission of Sydney Paige is all about education within the community … and the bookstore considers itself very much a community bookstore,” said Gail Mishkin, marketing/event/author manager at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse. “Anything that has to do with education — especially nonprofit with a lofty mission, which is to supply children in need with books and school supplies and everything that they need to sort of make their educational process easier — is something that we feel strongly about supporting.”
Wohlstetter, whose son graduated from Flintridge Prep in June, is grateful for the support of a local business when it comes to the backpack drive.
“We feel so fortunate to have the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse as one of our partners and even more fortunate that we’ve been able to link for-profit retailers with a nonprofit organization,” she said. “That’s a business model that we would love to continue.”
While high school volunteers from PUSD campuses helped stuff the backpacks and were on hand at the event to assist with distribution, students from Flintridge Prep also joined in the effort.
“What’s really awesome about this drive is that it’s a really good way to help in the immediate community,” said Flintridge Prep student Haley Harris. “There’s a lot of community service out there that’s sort of distant. … but this is something that’s right here in the community where we can really make a tangible change for a lot of the kids who are in our area.”
Sydney Paige’s Buy One/Give One program remains active online as PUSD classes begin. The company hopes to garner even more backpack donations to supplement those proudly donned by young students leaving Robinson Park last month with stylish new haircuts.
“There’s literally no shortage of children in need in the United States, and certainly in the greater Los Angeles area,” Wohlstetter said. “We, as a company, just feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to work with the city of Pasadena and all of the people who are supporting this effort. … It’s exactly how we want our programs to work — people who care about giving back working together to give these kids what they need to succeed in school.”

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