From the Sacramento Bee, by Queenie Wong:
Faced with the challenge of assembling 146,000 school supply kits for low-income California students, an Oakland nonprofit has enlisted the help of Folsom State Prison inmates.
“We really hit our capacity with what the volunteer efforts could do,” said Benito Delgado-Olson, the co-founder and executive director of K to College.
The group started a program last year that supplies $65 worth of free school supplies to low-income students in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Delgado-Olson said the goal is to close the material resource gap at schools with large numbers of students on free or reduced-price lunches. “(Kids) are told to study and do all these things, and they can’t even afford basic school supplies,” he said.
About 50 minimum-custody prisoners dressed in neon yellow jumpsuits and orange hard hats formed an assembly line Monday to pack tote bags with pencils, staplers, highlighters and other supplies at the prison’s Modular Building Enterprise facility. Cards indicating the number of each supply per kit were taped onto each table.
The work could be completed as early as the end of the month.
“This was a work force actually looking for something to do,” said Rick Hill, the prison’s warden. Hill said about 70 inmates were assigned to this program.
Participating inmates will receive a school supply kit to give to their children.
Inmate Joel Silas III, 52, who organized the assembly lines, said that receiving a kit was a nice gesture because it shows K to College appreciates the work the prisoners do.
“Even though we work for pennies a dollar, we put a lot of pride in the work we do,” he said.
Inmates assembled three kits for the program: kindergarten to first grade, second grade to fifth grade, and sixth grade to 12th grade.
Delgado-Olson said the idea of using prison inmates came after chatting with Democratic state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier from Concord at a warehouse in Martinez.
DeSaulnier, who chairs the State Administration, General Government and Judicial Subcommittee, was assembling the kits as a volunteer when Delgado-Olson mentioned the large number that needed to be put together.
“A light bulb went on,” said DeSaulnier.
The Oakley Union Elementary School District in Contra Costa County is expecting about 1,800 school supply kits next week, said Superintendent Anne Allen. Up to 70 percent of its students receive free or reduced-price lunches.
Allen said that her district’s schools started participating in the program last year and were pleased with the results.
She compared receiving a school supply kit to Christmas morning. “These bags are so big that the little ones can’t carry them out of here,” she said. “I watched them walk out of the office with a big smile on their faces.”
The program, which will help about 350 schools, is funded through Give Something Back Office Supplies, of Oakland, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Delgado-Olson said that he hopes to expand the program to three elementary schools in Sacramento in October.
But the organization won’t stop there.
He said that it also may launch the program at schools outside California, including New Jersey and Massachusetts.
“Whenever there’s an opportunity, I’ll pursue it,” he said.