Kids in his town were using trash bags as backpacks. He had a chance to change that, and he did.
Mike Morse is an attorney who lives in Michigan, where he owns and runs a law firm.
Toward the end of last school year, he learned there was a serious need for backpacks and supplies in local Detroit schools. So he decided to give 400 backpacks to kids in need.
That's when he was hit with a stark reality.
The need for backpacks and school supplies in Detroit is so much bigger.
Morse was humbled by the scope of the situation. "The truth is," he told me by phone, "I didn't even know it was a need. I was not aware that kids didn't have backpacks — that they were taking garbage bags to school with the limited supplies they had in them. I just didn't even know."
Morse decided he needed to do something much bigger.
Last month, he donated 23,000 backpacks stuffed with supplies to students from kindergarten through fifth grade in the Detroit public school system.
That's a lot of backpacks and school supplies. I'd heard the number $250,000 in relation to the donation, so I asked Morse about it — whether that was accurate and whether he was the one who donated the money. He told me that yeah, he wrote the check and yeah, it was for a quarter of a million dollars.
But he asked me not to focus on that number — or the fact that he was behind it — for this article.
What he wanted to talk about was the 23,000 kids who get to attend school with the things they need. The kids who were no longer carrying trash bag to class or missing essential supplies — the kids who felt more "worthy," as Morse said, of studying and succeeding in school.
The cool thing about giving is that it truly benefits the giver as much the recipients.
I asked Morse what it was like, seeing the kids receive their backpacks and open them up. "Oh, my God. It brought tears to my eyes," he told me.
"I got a call from a mother who said the day before I gave her daughter the backpack, they were at a store and they literally had to make a decision between pencils and a new outfit for school ... they were going without pencils until my backpack came. I get chills and well up with tears," he said, trailing off.
The things we take for granted...
School supplies are important to kids. As many of us parents know, many kids are given supply lists at the beginning of each school year. But we don't always stop to think about what happens to the kids whose families can't afford to buy the supplies on those lists, especially when that's the case for at least half the class.
"I have three daughters, and every year we go and get backpacks and supplies," Morse said. "We take it for granted. My kids get backpacks and supplies, whether they need them or not. I wanted the kids to have that experience. It's just a fairness thing."
...even the small things can be so vital.
Morse also included a reusable water bottle in each backpack. He thought of it as just a throw-in item for fun, but he later heard from the teachers that the bottles were actually a big deal. "It's 90 degrees in the schools that have no A/C," Morse told me, "and they are all using these water bottles."
Teachers have said that the backpacks and supplies are really helping to level the playing field for the kids.
In a city where more than half the children live in poverty, an act of kindness like this makes a big difference. And in some schools that benefited from the donations, things are even more dire. Morse told me that one principal said that over 70% of his school's students live in poverty.
The backpacks aren't going to fix all the problems in Detroit schools, but the people who work with the kids every day — the principals and teachers — agree: This is a big deal.
Marcus Davenport, the principal at Edison Elementary School in Detroit, said about the donation, "We definitely have students who come to school without backpacks. Some students come to school without uniforms. So when you have a gentleman like Mike Morse who donated 23,000 backpacks, that's just phenomenal."
Davenport also had some wise words for his students — many of whom may be at an economic disadvantage now, but he encourages them to reach their full potential: "It's important that people give to you when you're in need, but you don't want to be a recipient all your life. You want to be the person that's giving. And I encourage my students to one day be in this same position, to make the world a better place."
Perhaps most important? The students were shown that people in their community care about them.
Morse knows that a lot of people care, but he said they might not know how or where to help. He's hoping that people are inspired to help the kids in their own communities if they can.
"It's really important for these kids ... to see another person, a business, come in with this type of gift," he said. "To care about them — it can go really deep in their souls and they will remember that other people care."
As for his future plans, he's now fundraising because he wants to help even more students across Michigan get the supplies they need next school year. You can visit Morse's website and, if you're interested and able, make a donation.
Check out this short video about the backpack giveaway and see what it meant to the students.