Having school supplies makes a big difference for kids at school. Students need the right tools for learning: pencils, notebooks, glue, scissors, backpacks — the list goes on. Each year, educators see firsthand how a lack of vital supplies harms learning and causes stress for students.

BCBSNM employees and their families and friends gather for Sort Night to organize and prepare supplies for each school.

BCBSNM employees and their families and friends gather for Sort Night to organize and prepare supplies for each school.

“These are stressors that we try to reduce because we want them to focus on their academics and social and emotional learning,” said Lydia Polanco, principal at Mesilla Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “Something as little as a pencil means a lot to them.”

Many parents have to make tough choices between paying for things like medication and household bills or buying school supplies.

“A lot of our families cannot afford school supplies,” said Stephanie Hanway, assistant principal at MacArthur Elementary School in Las Cruces.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) employees know that having the proper tools is key to the education and growth of young New Mexican minds. That’s why they run Operation Back to School (OBTS), a yearly school supply drive.

OBTS started in 1990. Through the drive, BCBSNM employees collect supplies for students at Title I schools across New Mexico. Title I schools serve a high number of students from low-income families.

Mesilla Elementary School and MacArthur Elementary School are two of more than 130 schools throughout the state that have benefited from OBTS.

How OBTS Helps New Mexico’s Students

Each year, BCBSNM employees raise funds and donate supplies for OBTS. Volunteers known as Pencil Points run fundraising efforts in their departments. To raise money for supplies, staff set up many different fundraisers, including silent auctions, food sales and competitions. Typically, employees raise up to $15,000. The money buys about 23,000 school supplies.

Once fundraising is done, the BCBSNM Community Outreach team works to collect and buy supplies, such as notebooks, loose-leaf paper, No. 2 pencils, glue, crayons, colored pencils and scissors.

BCBSNM employees, along with their families and friends, then gather for Sort Night to set up the supplies for each school. For hours, volunteers count and sort tens of thousands of items. They lift and move boxes filled with heavy paper and notebooks. They push dollies stacked with supplies. Then they load goods on large pallets.

BCBSNM employees count and sort school supplies during Sort Night.

BCBSNM employees count and sort school supplies during Sort Night.

All of this work leads up to delivery days when students get the much-needed supplies. Volunteers visit each school, unloading and filling rooms with supplies. Sometimes Blue BearSM goes to deliveries.

Educators and students often welcome OBTS volunteers with high fives, smiling faces, and handmade signs and school placards expressing thanks.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of OBTS. In 2019, the positive impact of BCBSNM employees continues to grow with their compassion, enthusiasm and duty to serve the community.