Memphis, Tenn., Local 1288 Business Manager Rick Thompson talks with attendees of the local’s back-to-school backpack giveaway, one of many charitable events the local hosts throughout the year.  

When Memphis-area students returned to school this month, many were sporting new backpacks full of supplies, thanks to Memphis, Tenn., Local 1288. 

The backpack giveaway is something the local has been doing since 2014, says Business Manager Rick Thompson. It’s sponsored by the local’s nonprofit organization, the IBEW-Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation.

“It’s our motto, and we truly believe it, that helping the community is everybody’s responsibility,” Thompson said. “By meeting this need, we’re not only providing for the child but helping the parents as well.”

Thompson says the executive board approved a donation of 200 backpacks filled with school staples like pencil boxes, binders and notebooks. The packs were given to students attending pre-kindergarten through third grade levels in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, on Aug. 5 at the union hall.

“These are the most impressionable years of school life, that’s why we focus on these grades,” Thompson said. “We want to impress upon them that we care for them, that their community cares for them.”

Members have the option of donating to the Jonnie Dawson Foundation through a payroll deduction, an option that was negotiated with Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the utility that employs Local 1288 members. Roughly 750 of the 1,450 members currently participate. Since the foundation’s beginning in 2009, it has raised almost $1 million to assist the community, Thompson said.

“As IBEW members, we believe in supporting our communities and helping everyone live with dignity,” said Tenth District Vice President Brent Hall. “What Local 1288 is doing is an excellent example of living up to that principle.”

Named for former assistant business manager Jonnie Dawson, the eponymous organization donates over $140,000 to local charities each year. A frequent recipient is Community Services Agency, which provides financial assistance to those unable to pay their utility bill. Other beneficiaries include organizations working with domestic violence survivors, those who are homeless and transplant patients.

This year, Local 1288 began planning and construction of an education complex that will offer job training to the community. Classes will cover subjects including GED training and keyboarding as well as plumbing, welding and accounting.

“Participating in these projects helps the recipients, but it also helps the volunteers and donors,” Thompson said. “It’s a reminder that it only takes a little time to do a lot of good.”