Although the morning of August 29th began as quietly as usual at Friends of the Children, a hushed energy slowly began to gather in the hallways, flowing through staff as they entered the building and culminating in a charge of excitement in FOTC’s Community Room, where staff, volunteers and even a news crew began to set up.

Normally used as a gathering place for Friends and children, the Community Room had been piled the day before with brand-new, donated backpacks, pencils, pens and calculators. School supplies of every kind had been sorted through and piled according to type on tables and counters. Stacks of notepads, boxes of glue, bags of new mechanical pencils and boxes filled to the brim of markers and crayons filled every open space. Even stuffed animals for the younger kids spilled out across the floor from large cardboard boxes. Friends of the Children’s annual school supplies drive, made possible by a partnership with KATU News, was ready to begin.

Volunteers from USI Northwest (an insurance consulting and brokerage company with locations in Portland, Seattle and California) who had helped sort and organize the day before the event came back the day of the drive to assist FOTC staff. The dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly the day of the drive to sort newly donated supplies that were still coming in, while Friends and kids filled bags of supplies in preparation for the start of the new school year.

While pausing to take a break in between sorting piles of T-shirts and helping kids pick out supplies, Gwen Nomako, USI’s HR Liaison and Manager of Administrative Services, shared why she felt called to volunteer for the drive. “I’m kind of tapping into what it feels like to get a fresh box of crayons when you’re a kid, or a new backpack. It is symbolic of getting a fresh start in school. Feeling good about yourself is such an important part of education.” Nomako has also volunteered for FOTC’s Book Buddies for the past three years reading to program children.

“Philanthropy is a big part of USI Northwest’s mission,” says Chris Brisbee, President of USI Northwest and FOTC Board Member. “It is a priority of our staff to give back to our communities.” Over 30 volunteers from USI Northwest, which is in the top 10 corporations that support philanthropy in Oregon, came in over two days to support the drive. Some even took the opportunity to bring their kids to work with them to volunteer…such as Brisbee, who brought his own son, Austin (16).

Austin, who is a quarterback at Westview High School, says, “I just want to give back to the community; besides, it’s fun!” He has volunteered previously with his father for FOTC helping to sort books at the library and for other organizations in the community during events like park clean-ups.

Leftover supplies from the drive will go to benefit siblings of FOTC participants, students at Alder Elementary and other community organizations.