15-year-old organizes Back to School Drive for teens

YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A York County teenager is making sure kids her age have everything they need to start the new school year. Her nonprofit is helping nearly 90 kids across the Midstate.

Emily Bookhamer started her nonprofit, Emily Care’s Closet about a year ago, but this is her first time doing a back to school drive, and it has gotten much bigger than she expected.

Bags and boxes of clothes are currently taking up Bookhamer’s dining room.

“These are all our our guy sizes, this is our inventory,” Bookhamer said, pointing out a stack of plastic tubs. “These are already the complete bags.”

It’s part of the 15-year-old’s nonprofit Emily’s Care Closet. Bookhamer started it in 2021, but it did not start as a back to school effort.

“I was touring a local food pantry and I saw that they didn’t have many personal care items for families to choose from,” she said.

Bookhamer gathered her gift cards and went hunting for coupons.

“She came down the stairs one day, it was a Sunday morning, I’ll never forget that, and she asked to read the paper,” her mom Kristin Warner said, adding Bookhamer clipped coupons out of the newspaper and then asked to go shopping.

Bookhamer bought all kinds of personal care supplies, like toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent. She donated the supplies first to food pantries, then started bringing baskets directly to the families.

“It’s been very impactful because you get a side of their story and you get a piece of their life,” she said.

In 2022, she wanted to do more, so she started a back to school drive for teens.

“Most things like back to school drives are focused more towards the kids and not the teenagers,” she said. “I wanted teens my age to feel confidence to be able to go back to school.”

She planned to start small.

“I was expecting maybe 10, 15 kids,” she said.

However, things did not go according to plan.

“After one or two days, it’s just like the floodgates opened,” Bookhamer’s dad Jim Warner said.

Her back to school drive has expanded to nearly 90 teens, and grown far beyond York county where Bookhamer lives. Her family said they have gotten requests for help from several other counties, including Lancaster, Cumberland and Dauphin.

“I don’t want to turn anyone down because hearing the stories, it just breaks your heart,” Bookhamer said.

Everything Bookhamer collects is brand new: backpacks, school supplies, clothes. People have donated money and supplies to help out.

“We ask [the teens] what kind of brands they like or colors that they would enjoy, so they feel like it’s personalized to them,” Bookhamer said.

Each teen also gets a basket of personal care items.

“The bigger the family, the more supplies,” Bookhamer said.

Right now, the effort mostly consists of Bookhamer and her parents hard at work, but Bookhamer is making plans to expand.

“To hear your daughter say, ‘I want to help somebody else,’ you’re just so proud,” Jim said.

At just 15, Bookhamer said she was nervous at first about taking on a project like this, but the nerves did not last very long.

“As long I’m helping people and that’s what I want to do, then that’s all that matters,” she said.

Bookhamer’s long-term goal is to have an actual location like a boutique, where families can come in and choose what they want for themselves, but right now she is focusing on her back to school drive and asking for the community’s help.

People can help by donating money or supplies through Bookhamer’s website. She has created an Amazon wishlist from which people can shop directly.