No Small Thing: A Back-to-school Story

United Way fights for the education, health and financial stability of every person in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties.



For two consecutive years Owens Corning has filled 1,000 backpacks for local students in need during their annual United Way Campaign.

Currently, around 2,400 students in Toledo Public Schools are homeless.

Over the last two years, United Way has convened the community to fill 10,000 backpacks for struggling students in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa County.

Grace* sat in the school gymnasium, surrounded by other parents – many of whom seemed to know each other from prior school years. She looked at the school supply list in her hands…not really looking at it, but looking through it…tallying her family’s monthly expenses: rent and utilities, groceries, credit cards, gas money, child care and clothing for her three kids. She felt a little kick in her stomach, as she placed a hand on her belly and looked down. Soon she’d be caring for a family of four.

“Grace sighed and continued reading the long list of school supply needs for her three school-age children.”

Grace knew that providing them with backpacks and schools supplies was an important step in making their first day of school a success.

I’ll figure it out, she thought. Even if it meant picking up a few extra shifts.

She felt another kick: a not-so-subtle reminder that in a few short months, those extra shifts wouldn’t be an option anymore.

“First open house with us? May I join you?” a stranger said to Grace. “I’m Tricia Hughes, the school counselor,” said the woman sitting across the table, smiling sympathetically.

“I’m Grace. My family is new here this year. I have two boys and a girl who’ll attend school here,” she said, looking down at her belly as the next kick arrived on cue.

“And another one on the way? Looks like he enjoys reminding you of that,” Ms. Hughes said with a smile. Noticing the list in Grace’s hand, along with the expression of worry, she added, “It does add up, doesn’t it?”

“Well, it does…to a price tag I can’t really afford right now,” Grace said. “Is all of this necessary?

Ms. Hughes smiled. “Let me show you something my husband sent me this afternoon.” She took out her phone and found what she was looking for, and handed the phone to Grace. On the screen was a photo of a crowd of people, all gathered together and smiling for the picture. Grace looked up, confused.

“My husband works at Owens Corning,” Ms. Hughes said. “They had their annual backpack build today.”

Grace looked at the picture again. She saw that each person was holding a backpack.

Ms. Hughes continued, “Every year, employees from local companies partner with United Way to fill those backpacks with the school supplies you see on the list.”

Grace looked at the smiling faces in the picture. “You mean…” she began to respond, but seemingly lost the words to do so.

Ms. Hughes nodded, “If you’d like, three of those backpacks can be for your children. They are filled with mostly everything they need for their first day with us.”

Grace was overwhelmed with emotions and felt the baby kick again in response. “Thank you,” she softly said back. “And, please thank your husband. This is no small thing.”

Two weeks later on the first day of school, Grace’s youngest son, Clay, was sitting at his desk, slumped in his chair, looking around nervously at the other kids in his first grade class. He reached down to grab a pencil from his new backpack. When he unzipped the front pocket, he saw a note inside. Surprised, he took it out and read it: “You’ve got this!” it said, signed by someone named Julie, a United Way volunteer.

He smiled and tucked it back in the pocket and sat up straight, as the morning bell sounded.


**This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.

Change Maker Action: Because of your support, families like Grace’s are able to start the school year off with the tools they need to succeed. Join us this year at our community-wide backpack build, or help make a donation, to provide a backpack for a student in need.