1. Home
  2. /
  3. Business News
  4. /
  5. Non-Profit News
  6. /
  7. Local veteran organizing back-to-school...

Local veteran organizing back-to-school back-pack drive and free hair cut session could use an assist


Sarah Tofanelli of Mission Unified Impact is seeking the public’s help in collecting school supplies for a weekend backpack drive in Derry. Photo via Facebook

DERRY, NH – A Derry organizer sought help from community members, who stepped up to make her upcoming backpack drive bigger and better than last year.

Sara Tofanelli of Mission Unified Impact has organized a backpack drive from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at J & F Farms in Derry on Saturday Aug. 27 as part of the farm’s second annual Touch a Tractor event. 

Students can bring their supply list and volunteers will gather items either in a baggie or a new backpack. 

“You don’t have to grab a backpack if you only need supplies or if you only need a backpack,” Tofanelli says. 

Manager at J & F Farms Melissa Dolloff of Derry says the Touch a Tractor event includes tractors and farm equipment on display, a petting zoo, live music, a corn maze, food trucks and hay rides. 

Members of the Derry police and fire departments will also be there. About 1,000 people are expected. Admission, live music and the petting zoo is free. Parking is $10.

Dolloff says the farm wanted to help Tofanelli, and the timing was just right.

“We figured if we can make it something fun and educational, that it would be a little family thing to get out and do before school starts. So we do it the Saturday before we go back to school,” Dolloff says.

Tofanelli says the farm was one of the first to offer its space.

“I posted in a town group and I was saying, ‘This is my intention, this is what I want to do. I need a location, I need entertainment, I need people to step up who can offer services and make this happen.’ They were one of like five people who offered a space. It just worked out better with them because they were already having a touch a tractor event that day,” Tofanelli says. 

Sarah Tofanelli, of MIssion Unified Impact ,shopping for this year’s back-to-school backpack giveaway, to be held Aug .28 at J&F Farms in Derry. Courtesy Photo

Tofanelli has collected about 315 backpacks and school supplies that she purchased through donations. Additional local companies and volunteers contributed time, money and supplies. K Foley Electric of Derry is donating electricity, while Paisano’s Pizzeria in Derry is providing food. Haas Dental Associates in Derry donated about 100 backpacks, and kids at Professional Martial Arts Academy in Derry gathered about 80 backpacks.

Tofanelli found out the need for school supplies goes far beyond Derry. 

 “Originally, I was aiming for just Derry, but at this point, I’ve had people reach out all over, including Manchester, Derry, Londonderry.”

Tofanelli was also grateful for help from Angeline Gorham of Hampstead, who donated $500 and helped Tofanelli organize the drive.

Tofanelli says Gorham’s help represented a “big turning point” in getting the backpack drive up to speed.

“She gathered things and came up with a lot of good ideas. That made it a lot easier as far as planning things. She made the flyer and made that big donation,” says Tofanelli.

Tofanelli is still working to become an official nonprofit, which has dampened efforts to collect supplies.

“It’s hard trying to get places to donate like Staples or Walmart for drives like this because I don’t have my EIN yet,” Tofanelli says.

Gorham connected with Tofanelli through social media. 

“We ended up meeting up for breakfast one morning to discuss what her needs were. I have experience with running a lot of different events and organizations,” says Gorham. 

“I just let her know, whatever I could do to help out I would absolutely do, whether it was monetary, actual physical help, or organizing it and just helping her get it off the ground,” she adds.

Every dollar counts, and Gorham’s donation went especially far.

“I just did a huge shopping trip. We had so much stuff that registers shut down and we had to break it up into multiple orders. That was all on her donation,” says Tofanelli.

“She’s a vet and I really appreciate that and that she’s still giving back,” says Gorham.

Tofanelli is holding the backpack drive in honor of her mother, Renee Tofanelli, who died in May. Tofanelli said Renee, who worked as a plumber, would sometimes get calls over the holidays from families unable to heat their homes. 

“She used to bring me to jobs — you can definitely tell who’s struggling. She would turn the heat on and tell people to cancel the calls and tell them what to say,” says Tofanelli. 

She remembers when one parent had to return some Christmas gifts so that the family could have heat during the holiday.

“(Renee) went and filled out like three trash bags of toys and just dropped them off at the door. That’s how she always was,” Tofanelli says.

Tofanelli says before her mom died, she saw the work Tofanelli had been doing at local shelters.

“She always heard about it, or saw pictures on Facebook. And she wanted to help and get involved,” she says. 

Tofanelli hopes to continue the rapport she’s established within the Derry community and, for now, plans to stay there.

“After building a reputation for the last 18 months, almost two years, people are confident in donating,” says Tofanelli. 

“The Derry community is so supportive. If they didn’t donate supplies, then they donated money to go get the supplies. We don’t want to lose the community support. It’s just so close-knit and everybody’s so willing to help. I’ve never had that,” says Tofanelli.

Tofanelli says it doesn’t cost much to help people.

“(The drive) doesn’t cost me anything. It’s, like, pennies. But it makes a world of difference,” she says. 

At last year’s inaugural event, Tofanelli got donations through Facebook and delivered about 40 backpacks directly to people’s homes, paying for them out of pocket. 

“I posted in Manchester, Nashua, all over, to say, ‘Hey, if you need help, let me know.’ ” 

For next year’s drive, Tofanelli plans to get an early start. 

“I’m trying to think of a way to keep a tally on high school, elementary, middle school, and just see what we could do more of or what we didn’t use for future years.”

“Hopefully, we’ll make it a yearly (event that) will just get better and better. I mean, she does so much,” says Gorham of Tofanelli’s efforts.

“It’s definitely gonna be a learning curve. Even if we run out or whatnot, then I’ll still feel like it was some success,” says Tofanelli.

Whatever’s not picked up Saturday won’t go to waste.

“If the school needs them, then they can just call me and I can drop them off at any of the schools in Derry, or anywhere, really,” says Tofanelli.

The backpack drive also includes free haircuts and clothes for those who need them.

“If you need the help, it’s here. If you can help out, please do so,” Tofanelli says.

The Touch a Tractor event is Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at J & F Farms. The drive is from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Live music is from noon to 3 p.m., and a food truck is there from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. J & F farms is at 124 Chester Road, Derry.

The event is rain or shine and supplies are first come, first served. For more information reach out to Sara Tofanelli through Mission Unified Impact’s Facebook page.

According to Tofanelli, here’s what’s still needed:

  • school supplies like 1-inch to 3-inch binders and 1- to 3-subject notebooks
  • volunteers for Saturday
  • goods and services for raffles
  • barbers and stylists with wireless equipment
  •  food “on a large scale.” 

Those interested can donate in person, on Venmo/Cash App @ MissionUI22, or at the Amazon wishlist at: https://amzn.to/3dVkOII.



About this Contributor

Emily Reily

Emily Reily is a freelance journalist based in Dover who writes music and entertainment features and the occasional news story. After working for several years as a newspaper photojournalist in NH, she decided to try writing and editing. If she’s not at her makeshift desk, she’s in the greenhouse tending to her micro garden or listening to music with the volume on 11. She’s contributed to MTV News, Riot Fest, the New York Times’ Kids section, Washington Post magazine, Mental Floss, Bandcamp and a few other places. She urges you to subscribe to a newspaper.

Leave a Comment