Why we give to Puente: volunteers collect school supplies for Team Backpack

Laura & Courtney Cunneen

Laura and Courtney Cunneen were 12 years old when they heard that Puente was soliciting donated school supplies on behalf of dozens of South Coast families who couldn’t afford them on their own. The girls were moved by the idea of children their own age missing out on something as basic as pencils and notebooks, and they decided to do something about it.

“We felt bad to have what we have because Laura and I are so fortunate,” explains Courtney Cunneen. She and her twin sister, Laura, live in Pacifica and go to Terra Nova High School.

The girls are 16 now. It’s been four years since they founded a community-wide school supply donation program in Pacifica. Last year, they collected $3,000 in cash donations and enough school supplies to fill two entire minivans.

And the program keeps growing. The Cunneen’s backpack program has become so successful that their contributions, along with those of others, provide South Coast youth with enough school supplies to fill more than 250 backpacks.

The teens set up school supply “drop box” zones all over Pacifica and advertise their campaign at the local farmer’s market. Their congregation, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church of Pacifica, has also boosted the campaign with cash donations every year.

“Giving feels good,” says Laura Cunneen.

“We have people coming up to us all the time asking, ‘When are you going to start collecting again? What do you need more of?’ It makes us more motivated to do better every single year.”

The sisters received Puente’s volunteer appreciation awards in 2009 and on July 24, 2012 Supervisor Don Horsley will introduce a resolution to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors that will honor the sisters with a special proclamation for their efforts.

Puente’s backpack program also benefits from the generosity of many faith institutions, including the Community Congregational Church of Benicia, a United Church of Christ. The church forged a connection with Puente almost a decade ago when Puente founder Rev. Wendy Taylor came to the church to preach.

Now the congregation puts together an entire grade’s worth of backpacks each year. Last year they did 32. After buying the supplies, they assemble the bags themselves. And each backpack has a personal, handwritten note from a child in the congregation.

Congregants from Congregational Church of Benicia, along with Puente youth staff

“It’s just to let them know that it was personally sent, with love,” says Nora Gauger, chair of Mission and Outreach with the church.

Puente’s Team Backpack program needs your help!  Click here to check out Puente’s Amazon Wish list or School supplies list. To learn more, contact Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel at klobel@mypuente.org or (650) 879-1691 x144.

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