Standing at the end of her driveway last Thursday, Susan Tofias grew increasingly anxious each time a truck drove past her Cliff Road home without stopping.
She’d spent the previous evening and a chunk of that morning on the phone trying to learn the whereabouts of the last of the items she and her friends needed to assemble boxes of supplies for 70 college freshmen she’s never met.
“All you have to do is read these nomination forms and think, ‘these kids should be given a chance,’ said Tofias who, along with fellow Wellesley resident Carolyn Fletcher and Ruth Weinstein of Weston, runs the Boston chapter of Freshman Fifteen. “They can walk into their rooms and feel like everybody else.”
Now in its fifth year in Boston, Freshman Fifteen has assembled boxes of 15 essential items—toiletries, bedding, alarm clocks and school supplies among them—to provide to underprivileged students going away to college.
Tofias, Fletcher and Weinstein don’t pick the recipients. Instead, they offer a number of slots to Boston schools and ask administrators at those schools to pick the graduating seniors who are headed to college the following fall who could most benefit from the support.
“Any parent who’s taken a kid to college gets it,” Tofias said last week, still waiting for the truck with the boxes and final supplies to arrive. “It’s not the big ticket items, but they can’t afford this stuff.”
This year, the women will be sending flip-flops, bathrobes, storage containers and towels—among other supplies—to colleges near and far, in an effort to ease the burden of transitioning for students who can ill afford any more hardship than what they’ve already overcome.
“These kids really have to worry about every aspect of college,” said Tofias.
In many cases, Tofias said, the kids they’re helping have never owned anything new in their lives, and often come from unstable homes or have complicated family lives that weigh on their minds even as they head to schools like Boston University, Harvard, Brandeis and Yale.
“The rewards for us are helping somebody who…who knows what they could go off and do,” she said.
Fletcher, who has taught at Middlesex Community College, read countless essays written by students who felt like they didn’t belong—even in a community college setting—because of their lack of resources.
The work Freshman Fifteen does helps give kids a sense of pride, and puts them on more of a level playing field with their roommates and peers, Fletcher said. A partnership with Bed, Bath & Beyond has allowed them to provide a catalog of bedding options that gives students the chance to personalize their new belongings and feel a sense of ownership, according to the women.
“They don’t show up with a brown paper bag,” Fletcher said. “We do it because it’s the right thing for our culture to back up these kids as much as we can.”
One of Tofias’s oldest friends started Freshman Fifteen in New York City nine years ago, and convinced Tofias to launch her own effort in Boston four years later. The Boston chapter has grown each year almost entirely due to donations from friends.
“Usually when you tell people what it’s for, it’s a no brainer,” said Tofias. “The need is endless. As many slots as we can give these schools, they can fill [them].”
The women assembled 20 packages during their first year. With more boxes, and more supplies, than ever, 2015 is their biggest year yet and they’re hoping that there’s still room to grow.
“My two co-founders are ready to kill me that we’re doing 70,” said Tofias, waiting at the end of her driveway steps away from a garage filled with items waiting to be packed and shipped. “I felt in our fifth year that we needed to rev it up.”
Fletcher, who joined Tofias in her dining room a short time later as she continued to place and field phone calls about the truck’s status, assured her that she was fine with the growth. “It takes a village and there’s a lot of kindness,” Fletcher said, referring to the various people and companies that help make the $650 per student effort possible. “We are hoping we can grow every year.”
The letters of thanks and photos of recipients in fully stocked dorm rooms is repayment enough for their work, they said. “Every kid has a story…you support these kids one at a time,” Fletcher said.
“We get blessed a lot,” Tofias said of the thank-you letters. “That’s what makes this all worth it.”