As a student at the University of California, Berkeley completing his senior thesis on the history of the Oakland Unified School District, SupplyBank.org Executive Director and founder, Benito Delgado-Olson attended several backpack distribution events to better understand how the community provided resources to its neediest students. He was struck by the inefficiency of the distribution of resources and staged photo-ops, and realized there had to be a better way. Benito founded SupplyBank.org, then known as K-to-College, in 2009 to provide school supplies to low-income students. Today SupplyBank.org is the largest charitable program of its kind in California, distributing vital essential goods to under-resourced families throughout the state in partnership with a network of more than 500 organizations.
Most safety nets are not constructed to address community needs by distributing essential resources through channels with existing organizations that already have relationships with people in need. SupplyBank.org focuses on making that as easy as possible.
Frequently school supplies are distributed at community events that are disconnected from the local school district, the one entity that’s done the hard work of figuring out which students are in need. This siloed patchwork of efforts does not assure that those students are served.
In 2009 Benito piloted a program in South Berkeley, handing out 300 school supply kits to students in need. The following year an event was organized at the Pauley Ballroom on the Berkeley campus where six hundred volunteers gave out 10,000 school supply kits. A month later 16,000 kits were distributed to students in Contra Costa County. In the past decade SupplyBank.org has distributed more than $35,000,000 in grade appropriate school supplies to 300,000 students across the state.
Benito quickly realized that there were other needs in under-resourced communities and the organization had to think bigger. This was a turning point — stop thinking about specific needs and start thinking about systems change.
Applying the principle of market power to pool resources and purchase in bulk directly from manufacturers like how food banks buy from farmers and food producers SupplyBank.org can serve three times the number of individuals at the same financial investment as traditional distribution programs. The focus for the next decade is to leverage everything that we’ve done so far and expand it.