The Cunneen sisters of Pacifica start school each fall with their heads held high, knowing they’ve made it possible for hundreds of other students to do the same. For seven years, Courtney and Laura have spent much of the summer collecting school supplies and donations on behalf of children who badly need them. They started their “backpack project” when they were 11. By the time they were 17, they were delivering fully stocked backpacks to 280 students – 130 in Pescadero and another 150 in Pacifica.
Their extraordinary efforts have earned them a proclamation from the county, write-ups in the local paper, and the gratitude of nearly every family in Pescadero.
“It’s staggering, everything they have done,” says Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel. “It’s fair to say that a lot of kids wouldn’t have had school supplies if not for them.”
Now freshly graduated from Terra Nova High School, the sisters (who are also best friends) are headed to the University of Nevada, Reno later this summer to study business. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop collecting school supplies. In fact, they have plans to expand their project, formally known as “Bridging the Community.”
“We’ve put so much into this organization, and it doesn’t sit well with us to just let it go. Children in Pescadero and in Pacifica still rely on us so heavily for those donations. It doesn’t feel right to us to leave them hanging like that,” says Courtney.
The girls have it all figured out. When they get to college, they’ll join a sorority that will help them expand their backpack project as a philanthropic endeavor, and also try to enroll corporate sponsors in their effort.
They won’t be letting their work fizzle out at home, either. They’re hoping to enlist some friends from their local church, St. Andrews Presbyterian, who will keep up the annual ritual of collecting school supplies and donations at the Pacifica Farmers’ Market.
Last year, the Cunneen sisters gathered enough school supplies for nearly half the schoolchildren on the South Coast. Faith communities, clubs, and individuals filled in the rest. The backpacks have been a South Coast community tradition for more than a decade — most local students rely on donated backpacks, pencils, calculators and other supplies – and, Lobel say, demand for school supplies keeps increasing.
“It’s important for every child to have what they need to start the school year and backpacks are an important ingredient. You cannot buy a pencil where we live.” says Lobel.
Puente’s summer backpack drive has begun. Click here to see what you can donate or help supply to local schools by July 28.
The Cunneen’s backpack project resulted in changing their lives as much as it changed the lives of thousands of their fellow students. Laura, who managed the donations and finances over the years, would like to become an accountant. Courtney, who managed their organization, would like to study business management.
“It’s definitely made us more aware of the importance of an education. We’ve learned not to take it for granted,” says Laura.
Donate to Puente’s backpack drive now – students and teachers need your help with back-to-school supplies. Click here for a list of supplies.
Drop-Off Locations: Pescadero Grown! Certified Community Farmers’ Market, Thursdays in June or July 3:00 – 7:00PM ● Puente, 620 North Street (650) 879-1691 (please call for hours) ● Half Moon Bay Farmer’s Market on July 19 and 26 ● Reach and Teach (144 25th St, San Mateo) ● First Presbyterian Church (1140 Cowper St. Palo Alto) ● Studio 4 Pilates (213 San Mateo Rd, Half Moon Bay)