The new Kids Backing Kids charity, founded by Wellesley’s Rodrigue family and supported by a board and partners, supplies kids in need with backpacks stuffed with food, health products, clothes, toys and holiday gifts. But that’s only the start: The program is also designed to help kids who are hungry, homeless, living in poverty, or suffering trauma in part by educating other kids about their plight and training them to speak publicly about these issues.
The organizers—Dr. Jim Rodrigue (Wellesley Recreation Commission) and Dr. Kathleen MacNaughton, and daughters Grace (WHS senior), Olivia (WHS junior) and Simone (WMS 8th grader)—say they originally planned to supply kids with free backpacks filled with school supplies. When COVID-19 hit, and more families and children found themselves in worse or suddenly difficult circumstances, Kids Backing Kids took on its broader mission. Among the organization’s directors is Gerardo Martinez, principal at Wellesley’s Schofield Elementary School, which the Rodrigue sisters attended.
Exposed to kids in need
While the Rodrigues haven’t seen a lot in the way of poverty, food insecurity or homelessness locally, Grace says “we know there are a lot of kids who go to Wellesley schools that need more and are living in poverty.”
The sisters have been more directly exposed to children in need through their parents’ work in the health field and other volunteer efforts, including with the National Charity League, which brings moms and daughters together in community efforts, and the Red Cross food pantry in Boston. And they know that the COVID-19 crisis is making things much harder for many.
“COVID-19 has really impacted all the topics we’re focusing on. It’s made childhood poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity a lot worse,” says Grace, noting that she and her sisters love working with kids, including by babysitting. “With COVID-19 obviously being such a big thing right now we need to make sure the backpacks are delivered in a safe way, everything’s wiped down, and they have to be delivered with no contact. So it’s going to be trickier to deliver them, but we’ll probably also have more demand.”
The Kids Backing Kids organization’s name stems in part from the word “backpacks,” but Olivia adds that it also refers to “having kids’ backs.” The outfit has 75 backpacks ready for its first delivery in a week or so to a group that works with children who have been sexually abused. Another 200 backpacks will be prepped for delivery to schools at the start of the new school year, even if some kids won’t necessarily be lugging backpacks back and forth to school at that point.
The sisters say they have weekly meetings with their board and put in another hour a day on Kids Backing Kids (and two of them also work at Truly’s).
Getting the word out
To date, the group’s plan has spread through word of mouth, emails to friends, and social media.
The goal is for children to be referred for backpacks via teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, neighbors, friends and family, among others. The organization will then reach out to a parent or guardian to confirm the child is a good fit for the program and fill a backpack for the child within a few days.
At this time, Kids Backing Kids is for children in kindergarten-6th grade in Framingham, Natick, Needham, Newton, Wayland, Wellesley and Weston.
The program hopes to expand its reach in the coming year, in part through spreading the word at various venues, from schools to faith-based organizations to government agencies to businesses and non-profits. Volunteer mentors will help to train youth volunteers to speak publicly about the causes that Kids Backing Kids addresses. So far, 20 teens, most from Wellesley, have volunteered.
While the original idea was to get these volunteers physically into the community to discuss food insecurity, poverty, and homelessness, they initially will be communicating through a video to be disseminated via social media and by Zoom calls. The sisters are angling for organizations to sign on their volunteers as guest speakers on web conference calls during classes and other meetings.
You can help by volunteering (including stuffing backpacks), donating, sponsoring, mentoring, inviting Kids Backing Kids to speak at your events, and more.