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Giving back: Helping students is a year-round project for United Way corporate volunteer

July 23, 2016


By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union

While summer fun is on minds of many right now, Katie DiPietro, a fraud analyst at TD Bank, is getting ready for the next school year.

“I’m already collecting boxes and binders,” DiPietro said. “I want everything ready. We’ll start bringing in the supplies by the end of July and early August.”

Katie DiPietro enjoys helping prepare students for school through United Way of Northeast Florida school-supply drives. Photo by Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Katie DiPietro enjoys helping prepare students for school through United Way of Northeast Florida school-supply drives. Photo by Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

For the last two years, DiPietro has been an instrumental part of the TD Bank Auto Division’s Community Relations Team, helping to coordinate their winning efforts with United Way of Northeast Florida’s Back to School Backpack Challenge. Last year’s drive brought in 2,240 items.

“When I found out we’d won, I did my happy dance,” DiPietro said.

This year, companies are asked to help “Stuff the Bus” with United Way and First Coast News. Learn how you can get involved at unitedwaynefl.org/summerdaze.

DiPietro thrives on giving back to the children and families in need in our community, whether it’s collecting school supplies or rounding up items for the food pantry at Sandalwood High School, a United Way Full Service School.

“It’s inspiring to give back,” she said. “I’ve always been a giver. I was born a mother with a need to love and take care of people.”

It was in college at Florida State University that DiPietro realized the two-sided benefits of giving back – that moment when you make a connection that matters.

A fieldwork placement at an orphanage for teenaged boys brought her face to face with the troubles others face. It was a challenge for DiPietro .

“Here I am a young college student, shorter than everyone there, trying to tutor them,” DiPietro said. “One young gentleman could only be reached through video games. After we spent time talking about them, we could start to work on his math homework.”

She realized once she had gained the young man’s trust and taken care of that initial need, they could move forward.

Moving to Jacksonville and then through her work at TD Bank, DiPietro has found ways to help others move forward.

“You have to give back all you can,” she said. “You never know who you’re helping. It could be the person in the next cubicle who needs it. I don’t care if I’ve lived here a day or a year. I want to impact the community I live in.”

TD Bank has partnered with Full Service Schools’ Sandalwood Family Resource Center to supply holiday baskets for needy families, school supplies and kits to help students going on to college. Dropping off a load of supplies to the Sandalwood High School food pantry one afternoon, DiPietro was reminded of how close that person in need may be.

“I was delivering the supplies, and they went running down the hall calling,” DiPietro said. “They had just turned a child away because they didn’t have anything for them that day.”

At the end of every supply drive, DiPietro makes notes of suggestions that will help make the next effort better in order to provide even more supplies to children in need.

“My hear melts when you see a kid with his backpack across his shoulder and the smile even bigger,” she said. “It makes me ask, ‘How can I do more?’ It makes you grow, too. It makes you ask: ‘What can I do to be a better self?’”

So when fall comes and students in need are trying to find the supplies they need, DiPietro will be there filling up her boxes and handing over binders.

Are you or your company is interested in helping collect school supplies for classrooms this fall? Visit unitedwaynefl.org/summerdaze to learn about United Way of Northeast Florida and First Coast News’s “Stuff the Bus” initiative going on now through July 29.