Howard Grossman, B.S.’77

“Making a Difference” for Kids in Need

By Carol Olechowski
Howard Grossman

In 2016, after two rounds of downsizing at JP Morgan Chase in Rochester, N.Y., left all his work based in New York City, attorney Howard Grossman found himself opting for retirement – and seeking a new challenge to keep him busy in a way more locally based and values driven. He found that opportunity with Pencils & Paper, a Jewish Family Service of Rochester program that helps students in the community by ensuring that their teachers have the basic supplies necessary for instructional and learning success.

Grossman, then 60 and long active with such organizations as Jewish Family Service, consulted other civic leaders. He also looked into the Kids in Need Foundation, which sources donations and provides support for more than 40 similar stores across the country where teachers at high-poverty schools “shop” – free of charge – for supplies for students whose families cannot afford them. Grossman and Jewish Family Service saw a need for such a program in Rochester, where “50 percent of kids live in poverty.” Pencils & Paper was born in Spring 2016 and later became a Kids in Need Foundation affiliate store. 

Students hold up a thank you sign
Students thank Pencils & Paper for their school supplies.

In Pencils & Paper’s first year of operation, 824 teachers shopped for more than $700,000 of materials and benefited nearly 21,000 students. In its second year, with several more months of shopping ahead, those numbers have already been surpassed.

As program co-founder and operating manager, Grossman oversees the store, orders supplies, assures that shelves are stocked, and fosters relationships with other community organizations. Inventory “comes from recycling unused supplies from local companies, national sourcing organizations, and leveraging donor dollars through Kids in Need Foundation bulk purchasing,” Grossman explains. 

Three teachers and a shopping cart filled with supplies for the classroom
By invitation, teachers shop at Pencils & Paper for school supplies; arts-and-crafts materials; and such personal-hygiene items as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant.

Wegmans, Staples, and the local Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired have donated products, and numerous businesses, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, have conducted supply drives to stock the store’s shelves. A local real-estate broker donated his commission, assisting Pencils & Paper in renting 10,000 square feet of store and warehouse space located “within 5 miles of every poor kid in Rochester,” Grossman notes. Wegmans provided carts, shelving, signage, and design. The store is staffed by volunteers and provides opportunities for those with developmental disabilities. And as beneficiary of the final Howard J. Berman Prize – named for a donor who joined Jewish Family Service in giving Pencils & Paper its start – the charity has established a $132,000 endowment.    

For Grossman, Pencils & Paper has been “a labor of love. It’s nice to be making a difference in an encore career.” 

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