At just 10 years old, Riley Gantt took a class trip to a school called Haddon Avenue. Her life was changed forever when she met a kindergartener who couldn’t afford basic school supplies such as crayons. Since then, Gantt has distributed around 9,500 backpacks full of supplies, which she refers to as “Rainbow Packs.” Her non-profit organization is working to change the world and provide supplies to students everywhere.
What is Rainbow Pack? What is your mission?
Riley Gantt: Rainbow Pack is a non-profit organization that distributes new backpacks full of grade appropriate “homework supplies” to students in Los Angeles. We say “homework supplies” because the students often have some supplies in the classroom, but they don’t have any at home to do their homework, which is what we provide them with. Our mission is to inspire and implement solutions to the educational crisis.
You started this organization at the young age of 10. What has motivated you to keep going over the last five years?
RG: What motivates me to keep going is seeing the teachers, parents, and students reaction to us giving them the backpacks. They talk to us about how much it means to them and how excited they are for school. We also get thank you letters from the students, and they all talk about how we have inspired them and all the things they want to be when they grow up. It makes any bumps in the road we experienced up to that moment worth it.
What are your goals for the future? Where do you see your organization in ten years?
RG: In the future, I hope that Rainbow Pack doesn’t exist. In 10 years, I hope we have long since stopped what we do. This is because I want to solve the problem.
Rainbow Pack is a Band-Aid, currently, a really great Band-Aid. There are over 217,000 elementary school students just in LAUSD who are on meal assistance. We choose to distribute supplies to students who qualify for the meal assistance program, because if they are struggling to feed their families, they most likely can’t afford school supplies either. That number is 80% of the students in elementary school in LAUSD, and that is huge. By the time I go to college, which is in three years, I hope we have changed something in LAUSD to fix this problem and have that solution be a model for the rest of the country.
Over the years, who has helped you reach your goals? Why do you think it’s important to come together and make a difference?
RG: Over the years, I have had so many people who supported our efforts and helped us reach our goals. First, my biggest supporters are my parents who help me with everything that we do. Secondly, all of my friends who volunteer on their weekends to backpacks, even when it’s over 100 degrees out. We also have the support of the schools, their principals, and teachers and parents who all help organize our events and volunteer at them. The LA School Police help us with everything from hauling boxes to distributing the backpacks and storing them. And of course, all of our donors who make everything we do possible. Without them, we would have nothing to give away.
I believe it is important for people to come together and start conversations with others about the things that they care about. When you share your ideas with others, they grow much larger and much more powerful.
What advice do you have for young girls who want to change the world?
RG: My advice to young girls would be to believe that you can. There is nothing about changing the world that is gender-specific. There are many women who have helped change the world before you…If they can do it, there is no reason you can’t too.
How can others get involved?
RG: The main way someone can get involved is by donating to us on our website.
Also, anyone can hold a fundraiser for us, whether it’s hosting a bake sale or having a supply drive at their school, temple, office, etc.
Another way to get involved is to start a Rainbow Pack club in your area or at your school.
Cover image courtesy of Riley Gantt.