ConnectOC Blog

Equipping vulnerable children for success

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 9/9/2013

By Shelley Hoss
Originally published in the Orange County Register on September 9, 2013

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

Nearly half of Orange County’s students may head back to school with empty backpacks and unmet needs.

We all remember—or experience with our children—the mixture of nerves and excitement that accompany the start of a new school year. 

First -day-of-school outfit? Carefully-chosen backpack? Pristine packages of school supplies? 

Check, check and check. But for almost half of Orange County’s K-12 students in Orange County, this ideal is far from reality. Forget the new clothes and backpack, and even the most basic supplies; many don’t even have enough to eat.

According to data from a report released by the Orange County Community Foundation, nearly half of the students in Orange County are living below the poverty line. Their families are making at most $40,000 a year. Many live on far less.

The challenges facing vulnerable children range from lack of proper clothes and shoes to long-term housing insecurity resulting in frequent moves, new schools and family stress. This last issue shouldn't be taken lightly. A young student under extreme stress faces extra challenges related to health and concentration, challenges that tend to be compounded by poor nutrition.

“Going back to school when you don’t have supplies or new clothes, or even a nutritious meal, puts these children at a severe disadvantage,” says Linda Russell, a McKinney-Vento homeless liaison for Magnolia School District in Anaheim.

Kristin Byrnes, chief executive officer of Project Access, which provides on-site programs for families living in affordable-housing communities, agrees.

"The children we serve experience a much higher level of stress than middle and higher-income children,” Byrnes says. “This manifests in a lot of different ways in terms of coping skills, health and immunity issues, and basic readiness for school.”

To help fill this gap, Share Our Selves in Costa Mesa since 1995 has distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to children in need. Every August, a team of nearly 300 volunteers works together to fill each bag and organize them for distribution.

“Because of generous donations from countless community members, businesses and service groups, this August we were able to give 2,700 children new backpacks with the necessary supplies to help start their new school year off right,” says Karen L. McGlinn,  executive director of Share Our Selves.  “How beautiful it was to see children smiling as their new backpacks were brimming with school supplies, and to hear parents expressing gratitude over and over to all who made these gifts possible.”

Project Access fills backpacks with another essential—healthy foods. 

“Our backpack program brings protein and fresh produce for children to go home with,” Byrnes says. “Our backpacks are filled by our partner, Second Harvest Food Bank, every Friday at seven different O.C. locations. We give them protein and fresh fruits and veggies every week.”  

McGlinn concludes that “Children who are loved, educated, and healthy will always be one of the greatest measures of the strength of our community.”

How can you help?

To learn more about how you can help, visit the profiles for Project Access and Share Our Selves on Nonprofit Central, Orange County's first-ever searchable database of local nonprofits.


Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at

We welcome your feedback.  Please comment below.


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