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Project Backpack goes national

More than 10,000 backpacks collected

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005

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Rachael Golden⁄The Gazette
Walt Whitman High School freshman Sara Carbonneau, 14, helps wheel boxes filled with backpacks and school supplies to trucks that will deliver the boxes to students who lost supplies in Hurricane Katrina.

To read more, see The Gazette's coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

A Bethesda campaign to collect backpacks full of supplies for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina started earlier this month is now a nationwide effort.

In less than two weeks, Project Backpack has expanded from a few local collection sites to 40 individual campaigns around the country.

‘‘The reason why it spread was because it’s kids helping kids,” said Steve Kantor of Bethesda, whose daughters, Jackie, Melissa and Jenna Kantor, ages 14, 11 and 8, respectively started the collection around Labor Day weekend.

‘‘We were just brainstorming and it struck us as a good idea to help our peers,” said Jackie Kantor, a freshman at Walt Whitman High School.

The idea is modeled after a similar relief effort started to aid victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. The backpacks contain items such as toys, books and school supplies.

‘‘People feel compelled to do this because they wanted to help directly, they already gave money to the Red Cross and they wanted to teach their kids a lesson about charity,” Steve Kantor said.

Groups and individuals around the community pitched in and by Tuesday, more than 10,000 backpacks had been collected and shipped to displaced children in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, Steve Kantor said.

‘‘I think it’s great,” Jackie said. ‘‘I think we’ll definitely have enough backpacks for every child, maybe more.”

The project took off after Steve Kantor sent e-mails to list serves for Walt Whitman High, Thomas W. Pyle Middle and Bradley Hills Elementary schools and a group called D.C. Urban Moms informing them about the project.

Before he knew it, people from 20 cities had contacted him, wanting to start their own drives. By Tuesday, 40 cities were listed on the Project Backpack Web site, .

‘‘I’m glad it’s spreading,” Jackie said. ‘‘It’s time for people to take it to their own communities and share the project.”

Round two for Project Backpack started this week, Steve Kantor said and the goal is to collect and ship another 10,000 backpacks by the end of the month.

The main drop-off site for the region is now at Sodexho Corporate Headquarters in Gaithersburg. This Sunday, a community fair for the hurricane relief effort will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the headquarters, 9801 Washingtonian Blvd., where volunteers will process backpacks.

For more information, to volunteer and to find neighborhood drop-sites, see the Web site at

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