New Operations Manager in Cologne

Allow us to introduce Cassandra Zelesnikar, who just arrived in Köln. Cassandra will be the Cologne ground operations manager for the next few weeks.
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Here she is getting bags ready for shipment to Poland.

She has wasted no time learning the ropes, meeting the people, and getting the lay of the land. She’s here, working our (your) project on her own. And for that we are extremely grateful. Operation BackPack4Kids is not complicated, but it has 100 different moving parts, and the parts change ever so slightly each day. To effectively manage the ground operation here in Köln, you have to be quick on your feet and think fast. Cassandra is doing that. So please take a moment when you see her at the Marriott to tell her thank you (and or buy her a dinner!) and see if she needs any help that day. Without hundreds of volunteers and donors like Cassandra and you… we would have never gotten off the ground.

From Cassandra in CGN:

If anyone could do a dollar store run and bring a big load of those break apart Easter eggs by Saturday night so we could have an Easter egg hunt for the kids on Sunday. I can’t find any [here in Germany]. Please email info@backpack4kids.org if you are able to help.

Honorable Mentions:

  • We are at 937 bags delivered, inching ever closer to that magic number 1,000
  • The paperwork is signed and will be filed soon. BackPack4Kids will be officially incorporated in Kentucky
  • COMING SOON: an exciting announcement about a private donor who is matching $10,000 in donation’s!!!
  • 360 FUNDLY donors, over $60,000 raised
  • Volunteer opportunities exist, let Bill Vaughan know if you are interested.

New backpack donation option

April 14th, 2022

OB4K announces a new backpack build option.

We are excited to announce that we are now accepting backpacks filled with only 1 or 2 items from our list. This allows us to build up stock at our Louisville, KY and Cologne, Germany operations centers as well as making it much easier for you to contribute – a win-win! Please see our “How to build a backpack,” page for more info by clicking here.

OB4K responds to needs in real-time…

***SPECIAL UPDATE***

April 12th, 2022

Nothing can prepare you for sadness and shock. It just happens. As many of you know I’ve been on the ground floor, the front line of this amazing effort. But this morning, I cried again. But the rewards you receive in life often come through how you react to sadness and shock.

This sweet loving grandmother came into the refugee center today with her daughter and granddaughter. The granddaughter has Down syndrome. They fled Chernihiv last week. Her son who was a Ukrainian soldier died in 2015 in Donbas. Now her son in-law is fighting.

The Down syndrome granddaughter had tattered clothes and a dirty heavy jacket on. She needed help, so Operation BackPack4Kids fixed it. Through the use of a translator, we took grandma shopping for her granddaughter and bought her new, clean clothes for spring.

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This crisis is real, and the children fleeing the war are in need of help. The refugee center is filled with women and children… many suffering depression and anxiety. It is impossible to help everyone, but we will continue to help everyone that crosses our path. We have raised thousands of dollars, and we will spend it on children who desperately need our help. Our mission has been straight forward and simple. Help these children. Today, we can say…. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

– Bill V.

Check out our upgraded facilities at the Marriott, Cologne


April 11th, 2022

The FedEx families have really come together in Germany to make the project operate more smoothly and efficiently. Adding their talents to BackPack4Kids has been a real blessing.

The new and improved Studio 7 supply room
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BackPack4Kids has been wildly successful, but not because of one person. But hundreds upon hundreds of people with big hearts and a willingness to help these refugee children in their time of need. Staying focused on our original goal, utilizing every human resource we have found, and being engaged on the front lines of this humanitarian crisis has proven to be our wining strategy.

A happy IPA pilot on his first visit to the refugee center where he handed out 10 backpacks to children

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OB4K in Ukraine


April 11th, 2022

#1.
This past Friday morning, 100 backpacks were loaded into vans and transported along with much needed emergency medical supplies and water filtration kits to Lviv, Ukraine. For the second time in less than 10 days, the backpacks you built, bought, and made available… are now in the hands of Ukrainian children seeking refuge from the war in Lviv. It is our sincere hope that everyone who has supported this mission, takes a moment to let that soak in. We have now established a logistical link enabling us to deliver our backpacks inside a war zone.

Loading up the vans in outside Düsseldorf Germany

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The members of Ukrainian Friends Germany about to depart for Lviv

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The trucks arriving at the Ukraine border

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#2
BY THE NUMBERS:

  • 936 backpacks delivered
  • Over 55k raised on our FUNDLY campaign page
  • Over 320 volunteers
  • 6,000+ hours of volunteer time
  • 34 used suitcases given to refugee families
  • 3,000 pieces of Hershey’s candy given out

AND WE ARE JUST GETTING STARTED!!!

From the Green Mountains:


April 6th, 2022

When students and staff at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont first learned about Operation Backpack4Kids, they sprang right into action. Within a week they had their first backpacks collected. Students, along with teachers Elisabeth Siddle, Amelia Lutz, guidance counselor Yvette Amblo, and students from the Peer Leadership Group, coordinated the incoming bags, laboriously checked them for proper contents, tagged them for shipment, and delivered them to the next stage of the process.

Backpack counter at the school’s entrance
Students manning the bag collection desk!
Initial Backpack collection table – entirely operated by students!
Elisabeth S. with the first batch of backpacks

Once the backpacks were ready, they were delivered to the home of local airline pilot and Independent Pilots Association member, Erik Copeland. There, a separate team performed a thorough security check of each bag and a final quality assurance review. Backpacks arriving from other sources were also processed from scratch.

Erik C., Yvette A., and Amelia L, picking up bags from the school.
First backpacks arrive for processing.
Marie Lallemand and Caroline Loison going through each backpack.
The Team: Marie Lallemand, Kristin Burgess, Caroline Loison, and Dominique St. Arnaud (& daughter) working their way through a sea of backpacks. Missing: Thomas Schmidt, Lylea Loison and friends, Amy, Aaron, and Mary-Beth.

After a long, multi-week process the bags were finally ready for delivery to Louisville.

Special Thanks to Zach!
Over 400 backpacks were collected!!
Bags departing VT.
And 15.75hrs later, they arrive in Louisville KY.
Bags arrive at Dave S.’s hangar. Dave S., Erik C., and Erick G.

Following a long drive with cringeworthy gas prices, the backpacks were finally dropped off in Louisville for the next step of their journey. A big thank you to Dave Schmitz for warehousing these bags and many others in his hangar at Bowman Field in Louisville, KY. The bags will stay there until they are shipped to Germany later this month via our FedEx shipping partners. Once in Cologne, the backpacks are slated to be distributed in Germany, Poland, and possibly other locations as needs dictate. We will, of course, be covering all this in future updates.

We cannot thank the students and staff at Frederick Tuttle Middle School, the house team of volunteers, the students and communities of Bristol and Williston VT (who contributed a lot of backpacks themselves), Zach and the individuals who arranged the rental truck, the OB4K volunteers in SDF, and everyone else who participated to make this monumental project happen. None of this could take place without YOU!!

Shawn H. delivers a load of VT backpacks to our Cologne Operations center.

Local news station WCAX covered this story. Click here for print version.

SDF Bag Drive Update:

April 6th, 2022

Shipment date and information:

(primarily intended for members of the Independent Pilots Association).

If you have prepared backpacks, please have them in SDF NO LATER THAN APRIL 20. We are shipping several pallets of backpacks ≈ April 21st from SDF. Bags will be collected at Dave S.’s hanger at Bowman Field.

If you are not local, and need assistance with storage or drop off, please contact Bill Vaughan or Jeff F. for instructions.

Please note: Backpack4Kids will continue transitioning to sourcing, assembling, and distributing backpacks in Europe at the completion of this SDF bag drive. Anyone wishing to volunteer on CGN layovers would be appreciated in this ongoing volunteer effort.

As we approach the one month mark, looking back at what has been accomplished is incredible. Hundreds of volunteers, thousands of human hours, and almost 1,000 backpacks delivered. A true testimony to the abilities and can-do attitude of the IPA pilots and others willing to help.

We have not wavered from our intended goal:

~Helping the Ukrainian refugee children fleeing the war~

FedEx partners up with OB4K!


April 3rd, 2022

  • We have partnered with a shipper. Our first large shipment of backpacks from Louisville KY, will fly to Cologne via the FedEx Corporation. Working with the FedEx pilots and family members in Germany on this project certainly helped us secure this partnership. Details will follow shortly on when and where to drop off bags in SDF for shipment.
  • We cannot thank Dave S. enough for allowing us to use his hanger for bag storage. His generosity has been amazing.
  • Cassandra Z. will be traveling to Cologne and will assume the lead contact position next week. Working with the FedEx families and our own pilots on layover, she will run the day to day operation for 12 days.
  • Five Trustees have been named and are now guiding the project. William Vaughan continues to serve as the Director of Operations.
  • 100 backpacks were delivered to the nonprofit group Ukraine Friends Germany. We worked hand in hand with this group in Poland a few weeks ago, and they will take our backpacks to Poland this weekend and distribute them to refugee children.
  • Another 30 backpacks were loaded this afternoon into a German Technics Humanitarian Help Conex shipping container leaving tonight for Lviv, Ukraine. Because we are visible, and our professional reputation is growing, we were able to ‘hitch-a-ride’ for free.

Our bags being loaded into the Conex trailer…

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Monica experiences the operation first hand.

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Monica ensuring backpack are making it, right up to the last minute.

More happy mothers and children with backpacks from America!!! The smiles on their faces when they dig into their very own backpack is priceless. Without you, there would be no BackPack4Kids. Thank you again to everyone who has helped make this a reality.

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Another proud IPA pilot making a difference on his layover. While it may not seem like much to us, when the refugees find out we are Americans, they are stunned and excited to meet an American.

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Lindlar, Germany

Friday, April 1st, 2022

The call came in:  30 Ukrainian refugee children start school on Monday in a small village 45 minutes north of Cologne, and they don’t have anything, can you please help us?

Backpack4Kids from its inception has made promises we are able to keep, and we did it again.

Teaming up with our FedEx family members, 3 IPA pilots and 3 FedEx pilots loaded the Backpack4Kids wagon and drove to Lindlar Germany where we delivered ‘ready for school’ backpacks. The hurdles these children face are big… language barriers, being the new kids, trauma from their situation, not having much of anything… but they will start school Monday with a complete backpack and things they need for class, all because of people with big hearts like you.

None of this would be remotely possible without the generous giving that so many of you have provided. For as long as the donations and backpacks come in, we will provide direct support to the Ukrainian children through our backpack program.


Showing off the backpacks! The kids think its cool Americans came to Germany to give them backpacks, but the moms usually just cry tears of happiness and say, ‘thank you, thank you…’

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The children drew lots of pictures for us. They express their happiness, fears, and sorrow in their drawings.

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Bill with a future artist…

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Rooster the Golden Retriever was a huge hit with the kids, huge thanks to Tamara Hart (FedEx) and her family for bringing him along!

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Thank you for your support. Have a great weekend,

– The OB4K Team

Bags are flowing, OB4K visits a village outside Cologne.

***UPDATE***

Promises made, promises kept. If you find yourself down and out, feeling like you can’t do anything to help, or you just feel overwhelmed… you’re not alone. From the inception of Backpack4Kids, we knew we couldn’t help every single child. But we could help 1… then 2… and now almost 658 and counting.

Today (Friday April 1, 2022) Bill, Tom and our FedEx Partners headed out to Lindlar Germany, a village East of Cologne, to hand out backpacks to refugee children. These are kids that have been taken in by that community and are attending local schools. More to follow…

“The OB4K-Wagon,” headed out to Lindlar, Germany.

A lot of behind the scenes action is taking place at BP4K. Bags are constantly arriving from the US and being made by volunteers in Germany. We are delivering backpacks daily to the refugee center and are constantly looking for situations/locations where we can be of assistance. The Build a Backpack Day is starting to take shape and we hope to be able to announce a shipping partnership for this in the near future.

KIDS HELPING KIDS: 9 bags arrive at our operations center in Cologne made by middle school students in South Burlington, Vermont

Watch the video below when you’re feeling helpless and want to know that your contribution to this endeavor IS ABSOLUTELY MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

Think about it for a second, there isn’t another civilian group of people that could have made this happen so fast and effectively as we have. It’s incredible what is being accomplished here. Everyone of you have helped to make this possible.


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