The Marjory Stoneman Douglas PTSA sponsored four children from SOS Nextstep who are trying to pursue college degrees: Ellen Malka, Christine Fris, Dawn Jarboe, Julie Walk, Stephanie Rush, Caryn Bendetowies and Stacey Udine.

By: Matt Rothman

Over 500 children will have one woman to thank – along with her many friends, for organizing a large backpack drive for children in need.

Working through Hope South Florida, 4Kids, SOS Children’s Village and Kids in Distress, Parkland resident Heather Khalil created a project called “Back to School” to help children get the much-needed school supplies they need for the fall.

Bayor family putting backpacks together.

To get started on the project, Khalil called on friends that have helped her with projects or events in the past to be her leaders. They enlisted sponsors to take index cards with a child’s name, gender, age and size.  Then they used the card to shop for a coordinating backpack so that kids are able to get the supplies they desperately need.

So far, after teaming up with hundreds of different sponsors, Khalil has supplied 520 backpacks to the organizations, exceeding her expectations by nearly 200.

“522 and counting,” said Khalil. “People are still asking to sponsor, and agencies are still sending me lists.”

Alyson Brooks of Coral Springs found out about Khalil’s project through Facebook and since has sponsored two kids.

“It is very important for my children to understand to help others,” said Brooks. “We always do things throughout the year to give back whether it’s providing items on a gift wish list or donating other needed things.”

Heather and Sam Khalil with sons Samual and Charlie.

Khalil lives with her husband Sam in Parkland Golf & Country Club and has two sons.  Her oldest Samual is a sophomore at the University of Florida and her younger son Charlie will be a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this fall. Originally from Ohio, they thought Parkland was so nice, they moved there twice. First, from 2001-2006 and then back again in 2010. She said she started the backpack drive because she enjoys creating events, projects and connecting people who want to be involved.

“A lot of people want to help the community but aren’t sure how to go about it,” said Khalil. “When they see my posts or know someone that has volunteered with me before, they ask how to get involved. A lot of people enjoy giving back to the community and want their families to be involved. I just post ways to do it.”

Some of her sponsors include Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, who sponsors two children with her family, and Lauren Weintraub, who along her husband’s business, recruited a group of her friends and neighbors to sponsor 25 children. Khalil said she is one of many people that has taken on a leadership role and has offered to spread the word, distribute cards to sponsors and help collect backpacks.

In addition to individuals, local clubs sponsor children such as Jeanie McLaughlin’s cooking club, Robin Day, who has a Congregation Kol Tikvah social action group and Ximena Rosensweig, whose tennis club sponsors 21 children.

This past Easter Khalil helped set up personal baskets for SOS Children’s Village, Hope South Florida, and 4kids. She also helps collect toiletries, clothing, shoes and towels for Hope South Florida in collection boxes to help the homeless.

“There are so many people that volunteer on projects repeatedly. None of the events I set up or projects would be successful without them,” said Khalil.


Author Profile

Matt Rothman
Matt Rothman
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is now attending the University of Florida as a graduate student.

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