Student-run charity strives to give back in its own backyard

Indrani Mukherjee photo

Customers sift through donated goods for sale at a 33Birds tag sale for charity at St. James the Less Church May 19.

Last month, local charity 33Birds ran a tag sale at St. James the Less Church, raising more than $9,000 for underprivileged youth. This would be notable by itself, but 33Birds isn’t just a regular organization; it’s staffed and run by teens and elementary school students.

“We weren’t satisfied with donating and dropping things off, we wanted to do more,” said Ishwar Mukherjee, a Scarsdale High School junior who has been working with 33Birds since he was in fifth grade.

For this year’s event, 33Birds fielded donations from Scarsdale residents and organized and sold various used clothing, furniture and housewares.

Mukherjee, and his fellow juniors — Conor McCarthy, Zach Berkson and Maya Bharara — decided to use the money to build a GaGa pit for an elementary school in Mount Vernon.

GaGa is a fast-paced but tamer version of dodge ball that’s played in an octagonal court.

McCarthy said he liked working to benefit a cause in his own backyard, because he could see for himself how the money helped local students.

“When you actually see where it’s going, who it’s going to … it gives you a better sense of helping kids out… kids in need,” he said.

33Birds came about shortly after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Fox Meadow fifth-grade teacher David Besancon saw his students participate in drives to donate money and supplies to the victims, but felt there was a disconnect between their acts of giving and seeing how their charitable donations ended up actually being used.

“Everyone is trained to be alienated from their current experience… including their own communities,” he said. It was then he decided to get his fifth-grade class more involved in volunteerism and charitable work that they could see through to the end.

Besancon combined this thought with another idea he’d had for years.

“I always see amazing things at the ends of people’s driveways,” he said. “I thought Scarsdale needs a thrift store.”

Thus, 33Birds was born. Mukherjee was in Besancon’s original fifth-grade class and continued to stay involved through middle and high school.

The organization was originally based solely in Scarsdale, but new branches in Connecticut, Utah and Colorado are in the works. 33Birds Scarsdale will use some of its funds to help them grow at a faster rate than the original one did.

The weekend of the sale, fifth-graders roamed around helping customers bring items to their cars and restocking the tables, while teens moved furniture and set the prices.

“I think it’s a better way to understand what it means to give back and be a responsible citizen,” said Dalya Kahn, a member of the 33Birds board of directors, whose daughter, Maya, is a high school student and 33Birds member.

The board of directors is comprised of Besancon, Khan and Indrani Mukherjee, who share some of their responsibilities, as well as help the students organize their ideas.

She said one of the benefits of pairing fifth-graders with high schoolers was that after a while, “they start taking more of a leading role … and they learn from the older kids.” She was quick to mention that Besancon has also been a positive influence on the kids.

“Are we making a difference?” asked Besancon. “How would I know? Do I have kids who are happy to volunteer, [and] excited to help out? Yeah.”

For more information, visit, or follow @33birdsorg on Instagram.

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