Social FUNdraising and Gatherings represents a bunch of do-gooders with huge hearts, sharp minds, and thoughtful intentions.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
Social Fundraising and Gatherings (SFG) was founded by Bonnie Koss in 2011 when she decided to throw a Girls Night Out (GNO) with a purpose. As a mother of four and a Social Worker she knew people were yearning for connection. She took what she knew about creating intimate and nourishing dialogue as a therapist and found a beautiful space to throw the event. She picked a cause that needed some attention and marketed it as a GNO on FaceBook. At first it was about creating creative nights out, but it quickly grew into a social media community that provided connection, support and social justice.
The original GNOs were about sending proceeds to different causes but over time she started asking for items instead of money. At one pivotal GNO, she decided to make the price of admission a bag of school supplies. In just one event she collected three carloads of supplies. Simple "everyday" items like pencils, paper, erasers, markers, and folders. She then identified a school, The Richard Wright Elementary School in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia to drop the donations off at.
When Bonnie dropped off the supplies at the school she was greeted with more learning lessons. Many of the items she took for granted in her children's schools were not present at this school: copy paper was valued so much, they took all the paper she brought and locked it up. It was seen as a luxury - which meant the expensive copiers donated by big companies sat unused. Some had donated lunch boxes. Unfortunately, the teachers shared that 100% of the kids at this school are food insecure. They don’t need lunch boxes – they need the basic tools for learning.
With the school supplies unloaded, Bonnie accepted an invitation to tour the school with the principal. What a stark contrast to “her” kids’ schools - darker, no happy bulletin boards, no special stuffed mascots, and all the little extras we take for granted. However, one element matched that of her children's schools - the energy of the kids. And then… she got to what was called the library. Bookshelves - with one set of encyclopedias from the early 1980s. No books.
As she was standing in the empty room, she kept thinking about how we tell ourselves that this is a country of opportunity, and how through public education we all have an equal opportunity to better ourselves. How can a child coming out of this school with no books and no resources even begin to compete against her kids? This is an elementary school where kids are suppose to learn how to read. We know literacy is an indicator of future success and achievement.
“That’s it!” she thought, “I have to get this school books”. She went home and posted a thank you note explaining she had delivered all the school supplies the group had collected, and she shared some pictures of the empty library. She and all those with her that day asked their friends on facebook to go through their home libraries and kids' book shelves to give them any books, series, scholastic readers their families were no longer using. She expected they would get some books… But she never expected to collect over 80,000 books!
That’s a lot of books. It was more than one trip back to the school. It was half a dozen trips and sometimes bringing a caravan of helpers to carry these books into the school office. The outpouring and messages from people who had heard about her efforts was awesome. BUT…
From week to week when she was dropping off the boxes – she started to have a bad feeling. These books were not going to get into these kids hands… not because someone didn’t want them to, but because they did not have the manpower to organize, unload, sort, and shelve these books. This school has no librarian, no consistent school nurse, no identified gym teacher, no guaranteed music teacher, no art teacher and no active parent organization.
If she truly wanted to “help” – she needed to unload, sort, categorize, and shelve these books and create a library. So she went home and created what she called "service days at Richard Wright Elementary School”. She started by inviting those who had donated books in the first place. She asked everyone who was interested to meet her at the school. They started unboxing all the donated books.
At first it felt overwhelming – she had no idea how many of what kind of books she had collected; how she was going to organize them.
Each week not all the same volunteers would come and so with new volunteers new ideas were hatched and books were shelved and un-shelved and moved around till finally a system without a librarian was created.
Bonnie never set out to build a library. She simply kept showing up to the school, and as she saw a need, she tried to fill it. She could never have accomplished what she did, what Social Fundraising and Gatherings continues to do, without everyone in the group. So, when people thank her – it is only through her feeling connected to her community that she could and can do all that Social Fundraising and Gatherings does. Keep clicking through the website to see all that we are doing NOW.