Arlington, VA

Like many community members in Arlington, Amanda and Michael Sutton were concerned that the pandemic could lead to a wider education gap between those with resources at home and those without. So they decided to do something about it.

The Suttons have so far raised more than $6,400 via an online fundraising campaign called “My Job Bags.”

“A child’s ‘job’ is to imagine, create, learn and play,” the couple said on the GoFundMe page, which is nearing its $7,000 goal. “We’re working to assemble bags for children in need and to provide them with supplies to learn and be creative while at home. We’re accepting monetary donations as well as donations of the supplies below that will be included in the bags. All money collected will be used to purchase supplies and the bags will be assembled and distributed by volunteers.”

Amanda said she was among those trying to find ways to help out, knowing that many families were losing their jobs and students relied on the public schools for food and support. Other restaurants and teachers stepped up to help cover food needs, but there were other needs that were going unmet.

“We initially looked at ways we could help to provide food, in addition to financial support — and luckily, we found there are many organizations out there to help,” Amanda said. “Then as I was perusing Amazon for more homeschooling activities for my three sons, I couldn’t help but think of all the local families who are unable to do that. With all schools being closed, students are now forced to stay at home without basic school supplies, books and toys.”

That’s when Amanda and Michael came up with the My Job Bags campaign, thinking that children should be focused on playing, creating, imagining and learning.

“The hope was that during this scary and unprecedented time, students may have some comfort in knowing they can still continue their ‘job,'” Amanda said. “We brainstormed what to put in the bags — our goal was to include items that help keep a child entertained for long periods of time, have endless options for play, and enhance imagination and creativity.”

Among the additions to the bags was a jump rope, based on the suggestion of a local PE teacher. In total, Amanda said the contents of My Job Bags are:

  • crayons
  • markers
  • pencils
  • pencil sharpeners
  • dry erase board with marker and eraser
  • construction paper
  • spiral notebook
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • jump rope
  • bag of Legos
  • book

“I then spent some time researching the cost of these items — and was ultimately able to get the price down to about $7.00 per bag thanks to bulk ordering,” Amanda said. “Once our idea was solidified, my husband and I decided to begin by donating about 250 bags. However, we knew the need was much greater in the community which prompted us to create the GoFundMe campaign.”

Amanda said they worked to identify families through the public schools. Each school has a percentage of the population that qualifies for free and reduced priced lunches, and Amanda said they were helped by PTA presidents and principals of local schools with the highest percentage of need.

“Many of these schools have food distributions throughout the week, and this is when most of My Job Bags have been delivered to families,” Amanda said. “We have also contacted and delivered bags to children in two local homeless shelters.”

The initial goal was $7,000, which would provide 1,000 bags for students, but Amanda said they might keep going beyond that if they can.

“We will continue to assemble and provide bags for students as donations are made,” Amanda said. “No doubt that the need is much greater than 1,000 in the county. With the opening of schools in the fall looking very unlikely, we would love to continue this campaign into the new school year as well.”

Meanwhile, the bags have also helped bring the Sutton family together and feel productive during the pandemic.

“This campaign is something that my three boys can relate to, they use these items each and every day,” Amanda said. “This has been a family effort. Our dining room has become a My Job Bag factory and our front porch a constant delivery/loading zone. The boys have risen early and stayed up late to help fill bags. It’s been very fulfilling for us, to be able to help other children in this way.”

Photos courtesy the Sutton Family

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