As a grade school kid in Joplin, Missouri, my favorite season was “Back To School.” Summers held glorious memories of Girl Scout camps, family trips to visit Grandparents in Colorado and Arkansas, and going to my beloved hillbilly theme park Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. But the first day of school couldn’t come fast enough. I couldn’t wait to go to Walmart and pick out my school supplies and new lunchbox. Something I don’t remember is choosing a new backpack to hold all of my loot for those grade school years. I recall in Junior High going to the Army Navy Store supply store and scoring a vintage military canvas knapsack that held play scripts, music books, dance clothes, novels, and journals all the way up until I graduated high school. But a traditional backpack for those grade school years? I haven’t a clue what I carried.
Do you remember your ‘back-to-school’ backpack purchases as a kid? Do you even remember your backpack? Maybe I don’t recall because I took the backpack thing for granted. It was a given that I would have a sturdy vessel to hold my artistic and smarty-pant supplies for the school year. My friend Paige Davis has forever changed the way I look at backpacks.
Paige and I have danced together for years at the gym in New York City,(well, dancing for me, ‘recreational movement’ for her as she also goes to the big time dance studios and truly studies technique with the professional teachers and choreographers since she's a Broadway star.) Soon after I'd met her, Paige was given a huge opportunity and moved to Hollywood and got famous. Like super famous. Like there would be no television hosts if it weren’t for Paige Davis. She was nominated for Emmy’s, she was on my television every week, yours too, I’m sure. She appeared on red carpets for big splashy events and she wrote a New York Times best selling book. All those years ago dancing next to my friend, I never dreamed she’d become America’s Sweetheart and be so celebrated. Color me proud and inspired!
I remember the first time I saw her face on the side of a bus promoting Trading spaces, I remember the first time I saw Paige on the cover of TV Guide, and my best memory of witnessing her fame is seeing a 40 foot Paige in a Trading Spaces ad painted on the side of a building on 42nd Street that is known for their larger than life ad space. Paige’s career evolved and brought her back to New York City where I saw her in Broadway shows. I felt so fancy getting to go backstage and visit her in her dressing rooms. Around this time I started seeing new billboards and signs on busses with Paige’s beautiful face in different advertisements. She was representing Volunteers of America and had become an ambassador for Operation Backpack.
Operation Backpack is an annual event sponsored by Volunteers of America that collects and distributes school supplies to the children living in homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and other centers for at-risk youth. I’m even more proud of and inspired by Paige taking the spotlight off of herself and shining light and bringing attention to others in need. The list of charities and volunteer work that Paige is involved in just blows me away, but Operation Backpack is the one that resonates with me the most.
My Mom taught second grade for 35 years in Catholic schools; you better believe I had everything I needed for school. My Dad coached football and taught Driver’s Ed to half the town of Joplin, MO at the public high schools. (I’m not kidding, he’s kind of famous too!) Education was a really big deal in our house.
From Paige, “Some people believe that if someone is in a homeless shelter they must deserve to be there or they've done something wrong to end up there. It is a very misguided idea of how vulnerable we ALL are to finding ourselves in a similar desperate situation. But even if it were true that someone was at fault for ending up in a shelter, I think we can all agree it's never the child's fault. The single most effective way to end the oppressive cycle of poverty is through education.”
“But one of the most devastating consequences of homelessness is the impact it can have on a child’s education. Frequent school transfers and the stigma associated with living in a shelter add up to great hardship for these children. Everyone can relate to what it feels like on the first day of school. Because of the financial strain homeless families face, most parents of children living in a shelter cannot afford the necessary school supplies for their kids -- no paper, no pencils, no crayons, no folders, no backpack. So on day one, these kids look and feel different from their classmates. They are identified as disadvantaged or “shelter kids,” setting the stage for their entire school year. In many instances the peer pressure is so great these children withdraw entirely and may simply choose to not go to school at all.”
Operation Backpack is radically changing the trajectory of children's lives in homeless shelters. So how can we help? Paige has a crowdrise page and is raising funds: As you are shopping for school supplies for your young ones, please click on the link and make a donation to provide those same supplies for another child. https://www.crowdrise.com/PaigesOperationBackpack2015/fundraiser/paigedavis2
It is through campaigns like this one that we can instill the importance of education in young persons’ minds. It also serves the beautiful purpose of letting these vulnerable children know they are valued and someone believes in them.
My love for ‘Back to School’ season also extended to my breakfasts and lunches. We were not a PopTart family or a sugared cereal family. Those were mainly coveted treats to savor while sleeping over at my friends’ houses. If I was lucky, someone would share their PopTarts at lunchtime from their own lunchbox. As an adult, I make sweet hand pies all the time. This recipe is full of warm fall spices and pears, but I didn’t want to wait until autumn to share the recipe. You can easily substitute end of summer berries or any other favorite seasonal fruit. They are perfect for back to school!
Chai Spiced Pear Hand Pies
Servings: 1 Crust, enough for 6 hand pies
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until the texture is a
very coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup ice water; pulse, adding more water if dry, until dough comes together in clumps. Form into a square, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm, about 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out to form pies.
Chai Pear Filling
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add 2 large bosc pears, peeled and finely chopped.
- Add 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4! teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon honey.
- Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes , to take the raw, dusty quality off of the dried spices.
- Add 1/2 cup water to the pan, stirring to form a syrup around the fruit.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Preheat oven to 375°. Roll out dough on a floured surface to a 15x12-inch rectangle. Cut into 6 rectangles.
- Brush edges of rectangles with water; mound some pear mixture in center of each. Fold dough over, and press edges to seal. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
- Bake hand pies, rotating sheet halfway through, until pastry is golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
food photos by Cheryl Stockton of Stockshot Studio.