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Operation Backpack Helps Students Gear Up For Back To School

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Ready or not, it's almost back to school time.

Stores are full of supplies, but not everyone can afford them.

That's why one local organization is helping to make sure every child starting school in New York City has a backpack full of supplies.

When soon-to-be-sixth grader Heaven Harrell walks through the doors of Wadleigh School on her first day, she'll have a brand new bag.

"I picked it because I really like the color purple," she said.

That's thanks to Operation Backpack, started by the organization Volunteers of America Greater New York.

"This is pretty awesome. I'm really thankful to the people who started this," said Harrell.

She lives with her father in an Upper Manhattan homeless shelter, but they want people to know that won't stop her from achieving her dream of becoming a science teacher.

"If you're willing to do the work, you should be successful in anything you choose to do," her dad, Soloman Harrell, said.

Volunteers help low income families prepare their kids for the education they need to thrive.

"If everyone understands the issue at hand and participates and gives back, it will be a movement that you just can't stop," said volunteer Fran Cintorino.

Over the next week, hundreds of volunteers will fill the brand new backpacks with donated supplies. They plan to give out 17,000 of them to ensure every New York City student from pre-K to 12th grade is ready for the first day of school.

"We're there for every child who lives in a New York City homeless, or domestic violence or runaway youth shelter," volunteer Rachel Weinstein said.

"Having a backpack is part of making that day a way for children to see that they can move forward with their lives," said Steven Banks, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services.

Banks said 70 percent of people in the shelter system are families.

"What we are trying to do here is turn the tide on homelessness," he said.

This year, for the first time, Volunteers of America Greater New York expanded its Operation Backpack campaign to include shelters for runaway and homeless youth. The organization has helped more than 160,000 students since it started this mission 15 years ago.

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