Coldwell Banker Cares Foundation Fights Hunger

Coldwell Banker Cares Foundation Fights Hunger

Coldwell Banker Cares Foundation donated $75,000 to Backpack Buddies.

(From left) Samra Robbins, Terri Bagen, Laura Rittenberg – regional president of Coldwell Banker Realty, Debbie Sonenshine, and Ronald Robbins
(From left) Samra Robbins, Terri Bagen, Laura Rittenberg – regional president of Coldwell Banker Realty, Debbie Sonenshine, and Ronald Robbins

In its largest donation ever, the Coldwell Banker Cares Foundation has given $75,000 to , an organization that fights hunger by providing weekend meals to school children.

Backpack Buddies of Metro Atlanta was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in February 2022 by a group of dedicated volunteers, including Coldwell Banker real estate agent Debbie Sonenshine, as well as Backpack Buddies chair, Ronald Robbins, who, with his wife, Samra Robbins, founded the Backpack Buddies program in 2017. This is also the largest donation that the growing non-profit has ever received.

In celebration of the first anniversary of BPBMA, the landmark check was presented on May 18 at the organization’s headquarters in Dunwoody. Robbins expressed his appreciation to the Coldwell Banker Realty Cares foundation.

“This generous donation is a proof point of our efficient model to feed children in need and will serve our continued growth. In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that our board and staff could have accomplished so much in such a short period of time. In addition, our Community Buddies, participating schools, and volunteers have made BPBMA a new standard in feeding hungry children on weekends.”

Several years ago, Sonenshine replied, in answer to her husband’s question of what she wanted for a milestone birthday, that she would like to feed people. That wish was fulfilled by buying enough food to make Thanksgiving holiday boxes for 500 people, which 180 volunteers helped assemble, and collaborated with the Community Assistance Center in Sandy Springs to distribute the boxes to people in need.

Coldwell Banker Cares Foundation donated $75,000 to the Backpack Buddies program to help feed children dealing with food insecurity.

So, it struck a chord when Sonenshine read about the new Atlanta Backpack Buddies program in a 2017 Atlanta Jewish Times article. She recruited two of the volunteers who were implementing the program at Congregation Beth Shalom — Rose Haber and Bonnie Cook – to start the program at Congregation B’nai Torah, where all three were members.

But at the time, all 17 of the Community Buddy partners — churches, synagogues and civic organizations that were implementing the program — were independently buying and storing their own food. Sonenshine realized that greater efficiencies could mean greater impact for more hungry children. She recalled telling Robbins, “We need to come together and have an umbrella organization and buy the food in bulk and raise the money together.”

He eventually agreed, and the new organization was formed last year. With a streamlined purchasing process and a food storage center, BPBMA has doubled its reach from serving approximately 800 children, attending 27 schools, to serving weekend meals to 1,600 children, attending 41 schools, after just its first year.

In addition to B’nai Torah and Beth Shalom, other Jewish Community Buddy partners who pack and deliver food to their adopted schools each week include: Ahavath Achim, Etz Chaim, Gesher L’Torah, Or VeShalom, Shaarei Shamayim, Shearith Israel, Temple Beth David, Temple Beth Tikvah, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Sinai and The Temple. Two of Coldwell Banker’s offices, Coldwell Banker Realty’s Alpharetta and the Sandy Springs Perimeter office, are also part of the Community Buddy network.

“They just love it,” said Sonenshine of the B’nai Torah volunteers. “It’s a wonderful way for people that maybe are retired to give them a reason to get up and get dressed and come see their friends and feel needed. It’s just a win-win all the way around.”

BPBMA has just relocated to a new storage and distribution facility in the Williamsburg at Dunwoody shopping center, that is twice the size of the previous space and that has been outfitted for even greater efficiency. Double doors, for example, can accommodate the recently purchased forklift enabling storage facility workers to quickly and easily unload a full pallet of items from a truck that previously would have been done by hand. More, director of operations Jonathan Halitsky has computerized the organization’s food procurement, inventory, and volunteer systems.

As the organization continues to benefit from these new processes, plans include tripling service to assist food insecure families over the next two to three school years. New volunteers are needed to help reach these goals, according to Sonenshine.

In a statement, Laura Rittenberg, president of Coldwell Banker Realty in Atlanta, said: “As real estate professionals who dedicate their lives to guiding people in their homeownership dreams, we understand the significance of ‘home’ throughout the highs and lows of life. We are grateful to Debbie Sonenshine for casting a light on this wonderful organization that assists local families by providing weekend meals to children and to everyone in our company who joined us in supporting Backpack Buddies this year. We hope it brings awareness to the needs of families who are going through difficult situations in the Atlanta region and beyond.”

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