In February 2021, the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Chelmsford, MA undertook an emergency relief effort to assist families severely impacted by a fire accident in Lowell, MA. Center members raised funds  to purchase essential items for affected families, which were delivered to The Wish Project, a non-profit agency responsible for their distribution.

In summer 2021, the Wish Project announced their campaign to distribute 3000 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in the Merrimack Valley area. The Chelmsford Sai Center decided to use leftover funds (about $600) from their earlier relief effort to contribute 20 backpacks filled with school supplies. The “Backpack Attack” project was led by Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children from Group 3 and 4 (aged 12 years and older).  COVID protocols were followed throughout the entire process, with only fully-vaccinated children participating in the project.

SSE students and their teachers  purchased the backpacks and school supplies during a shopping trip to a local Walmart. The children split into two groups, each group scouring the store shelfs for various school supplies they were assigned to locate and purchase (backpacks, pencils, books etc.). To their delight, the SSE students found items at a discounted price that allowed them to purchase an additional 5 backpacks with enough school supplies to fill them. The group then proceeded to a teacher’s home, where they assembled the backpacks. The students were indeed gratified to contribute 25 backpacks, each at one-third the cost the Wish Project had estimated for each backpack.

On the day of delivery, SSE students, their teachers, parents and other Sai volunteers were given a tour of the Wish Project facility to learn how the agency serves the needs of struggling families. Two staff members shared their own personal experience of starting off as beneficiaries of The Wish Project. They eventually were able to get back on their feet and now work as full-time staff at the same agency! Sai volunteers were inspired and moved by their personal stories, which highlighted the value of perseverance during tough times, and reinforced the message that all the down and trodden needed were a leg up.

Reflections by SSE children

The backpack project was a practical and impactful experience which taught the SSE students some life lessons and life skills as much as it was a service activity for them. Here are some reflections from the children:

Manoj Soundar (15 yrs.): “I learned that many kids don’t have what we have. Even the smallest things we do for others can sometimes go a long way.”

Gayathri Seethamraju (14 yrs.): “I just felt good since I could use my skills to help someone else. I’m glad I could make those kids happy while having some fun doing it!”

Srinidhi Datla (16 yrs.): “I was able to learn more about the value of saving money. And how enjoyable it is to participate in service.”

Milan Behera (15 yrs.): “I learned how to be time-efficient in carrying out tasks since we were able to shop for many things in the span of an hour. We all had fun and we also helped out kids in need which is always a good thing to do.”

One of the SSE teachers shared, “Our goal was to help the children develop gratitude for the blessings they have and an empathy for those in society who do not have things that we tend to take for granted. The service activity also helped them realize that we are all inter-connected and that we are indebted to society. We have a responsibility to pay back this debt in whatever way we can.”