Sandia LabNews

Operation Backpack serves more than ever

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SERVING SERVICEMEMBERS — Vehicles stuffed with school supplies, backpacks and Girl Scout Cookies are filled at the Sandia/California campus for delivery to military families on three northern California installations. (Photo courtesy Rachel Sowell)

Sandians who supported Operation Backpack this year ended up serving more military families than ever, including some from a newly added installation.

The effort at Sandia/California, organized by senior management assistants Rachel Sowell and Adina Eliassian, resulted in 228 backpacks full of school supplies delivered to military families in California at Camp Parks in Dublin, Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, and newly added Fort Hunter Liggett in southern Monterey County.

“I was totally happy to help out the third base,” said Rachel, who started Operation Backpack nine years ago, when she was the senior management assistant of the former California Weapons Center. “It was my desire to make sure that, as we did at the California Weapons Center, we organized fundraisers for the military. I want to ensure that Operation Backpack continued to be a fundraiser that Sandians could feel proud to support.”

Both women point out that expenses for working families can be significantly higher in the Bay Area, and members of the armed services are not immune from those pressures.

“I know it might seem like a small endeavor,” Rachel said. “However, what might seem insignificant, such as a backpack or some school supplies, actually does have a meaningful impact on the families who are receiving them. Many times, there are multiple children in a family with a parent who is deployed, so our donations with all the needed school supplies help the families of our servicemen and women who don’t always have everything they need for school, like a lot of American families.”

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PROVIDERS — From left, Dominic Browning, Rachel Sowell and Adina Eliassian delivered backpacks and school supplies to military families as part of Operation Backpack. (Photo courtesy Rachel Sowell)

The team created several ways that Sandians, whether they work on the California site, work remotely or live in New Mexico, were able to support the effort.

“We’ve tried to create different ways for people to contribute, whether it’s the Amazon wish list, or shopping for some supplies and just drop it off with us, or even sponsoring a child or multiple children,” Rachel said.

“You would think that we wouldn’t be getting as much this year (because of the pandemic), but we got even more, and some paid a hefty shipping price to send it to us,” Adina said.

“I think for those individuals who’ve been around long enough and have been involved in donating to Operation Backpack, they actually look forward to it,” Rachel said. “Every year we have multiple staff members who ask for more than one child to sponsor, because it’s something they look forward to doing with their own kids. They take their kids shopping to get them involved and say, ‘Hey, here’s the need of a child, or several children and a family.’”

Adina agreed: “They make a whole family activity with it. They say how much their children enjoy shopping for this and putting the backpacks together. They make special labels and a lot of them were so beautiful. Some of them go above and beyond, and sometimes they stuff those backpacks so much that there’s not enough room, and they have to attach two more bags to the backpack because they couldn’t fit everything in. It’s very heartwarming to see how much they care about this campaign.”

Rachel — who was joined by her 12-year-old daughter, who started helping put backpacks together when she was three — also points out that many Sandians joined the Labs in the last three years.

“I feel that as we get new employees who are not used to our causes, this is one way to remind them that part of Sandia culture is giving back to our communities,” she said. Rachel even took her daughter to help deliver the backpacks to the families this year to show her how important acts of compassion and charity can be for the families.

Adina wanted everyone who gave to understand how huge their gifts are for these military families.

“It’s very rewarding, seeing the faces on the children and the parents when we deliver the supplies,” she explained. “It’s a very rewarding experience.”

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