2009: UC Berkeley Roots & Pilot at the South Berkeley YMCA
K to College started when a group of UC Berkeley college students realized that the basic business principle of market power could significantly improve the educational experiences of millions of low-income children and their teachers. By purchasing school supplies in bulk directly from manufacturers, then donating these supplies to at-risk children, our founders believed that they could lessen the pervasive lack of material resources among low-income children.
Equipped with a nonprofit business plan and a borrowed pickup truck, we fundraised from local businesses and in 2009 gathered volunteers to distribute our first 300 school supply kits to Berkeley Unified students.
2010: San Francisco Bay Area Expansion
To showcase our innovative approach, in January 2010 we gathered more than 500 volunteers in UC Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom to assemble school supply kits for 10,000 low-income kids. The passion and energy of that event’s volunteers led to the success that was an inflection point for our organization, publicly demonstrating the ability to provide these resources to children across multiple communities.
K to College expanded to provide school supply kits to tens of thousands of children throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. This unprecedented regional effort drew national attention, including news coverage from CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, and many other news sources.
2010-2011: Refining our Nonprofit Business Model
Since 2010, we have continued to improve our original business model. Our sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 608, established an innovative partnership with the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), allowing inmates to engage in community service by assembling K to College’s school supply kits as part of a rehabilitation program. This partnership ensures that we can scale to produce hundreds of thousands of school supply kits and incorporated another worthy community service into our process.
We also found other ways to improve our approach, including securing a sales tax exemption and welfare waiver from the California Board of Equalization for programmatic costs, and establishing formal partnerships with numerous relevant organizations, including the California Teachers Association, the California State PTA, and more than 200 school districts.
2011-2012: New Corporate Partners & Statewide Expansion
In 2011 and 2012, we established new public-private partnerships throughout California to provide basic materials to homeless children and youth. This included several partnerships that continue today, including major gifts from Kaiser Permanente, Target, and Huawei Technologies. We leveraged these private contributions with public social welfare contracts wherever possible throughout the state, serving thousands of kids from San Diego and Los Angeles to Sacramento.
During this time, we also worked to establish partnerships with additional school districts throughout the state, enabling us to reach more children and families in need.
2013-2015: A New Safety Net for Basic Material Needs
Today, our organization’s focus is to ensure that California’s 300,000+ homeless children and youth receive the basic materials they need to develop, learn and thrive. There are two main reasons for this focus: (1) The homeless are the most underserved and critically at-risk population, and (2) The existing framework of school district homeless liaisons required by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides an efficient and effective way to reach those in need.
Thus far, our most significant accomplishment to this end was our successful sponsorship of Senate Bill 761, which established the “School Supplies for Homeless Children Fund” as a Voluntary Contribution Fund on Californians’ personal income tax returns. This Fund has provided essential materials to tens of thousands of homeless children and youth throughout the 2015/2016 school-year.