Moral Happy Productive: Benny Klein ’20

By Melody Guyton Butts

When the mercury drops each winter, Benny Klein has always had a warm coat to keep out the chill. But the Durham Academy junior knows that not everyone is so lucky.

“On my drive to school, I often see kids waiting for the bus [without adequate winter gear],” he said. “I am aware of it all the time, and I’m thinking, man, is there something we can do for them? And this is why we're doing what we do.”

What Klein and others are doing is working to ensure that no child has to wait for the school bus wearing just a T-shirt or hoodie. Through their organization, Bundle Up Durham, their mission is to provide a coat to every child in Durham who needs one.

Bundle Up Durham was born in 2015 when a neighbor of Klein’s, Dr. Shalini Ramasunder, noticed lots of children waiting for buses without outerwear on frigid mornings. After reaching out to Durham Public Schools and learning of the huge scale of the problem, she harnessed the power of social media — using the hashtag #BundleUpDurham — to collect more than 100 coats in a matter of days. Ramasunder approached the Klein brothers — Benny and older siblings David ’18 and Josh ’18 — to see if they might want to take the reins of the project, and they ran with it.

Ramasunder has continued to raise funds and collect coats through her networks and as a parent at Duke School, and the Klein brothers have tapped into the DA community as a generous source of coat and monetary donations after launching DA’s Bundle Up Durham Club in 2016.

It’s a cause that’s dear to their hearts.

“We all went to elementary school at Easley. It’s a public elementary school, and it’s different than Durham Academy in terms of the need of some of the students,” Benny explained, recalling that he sometimes rode the bus with classmates who didn’t have coats to keep them warm.

“We got to see the need in the community at a really young age,” Josh recalled, “but we didn’t have the skills or the opportunity to do something big about it until we heard about what Shalini was doing. Having that personal connection to Durham Public Schools, I thought that it would be something important to bring to the DA community.”

The DA community has embraced Bundle Up Durham, helping the organization to collect hundreds of new and gently used coats over the past three years. Each winter, club members have set up donation bins on all three DA campuses, giving parents an easy way to put their children’s outgrown outerwear to good use.

The Klein brothers have also employed some creative fundraisers to raise money to purchase new coats and winter gear. A GoFundMe campaign running throughout 2017 netted more than $2,000, and donations are being collected now via a newly launched Bundle Up Durham website.

They’ve also gone offline, collecting nearly 50 coats and $500 at Duke men’s and women’s basketball games during the 2017–2018 season, with hopes of repeating that success this season.

And each winter, the club has sold T-shirts emblazoned with the Bundle Up Durham and DA basketball logos, to be worn on a Friday night of big basketball games — the setting for a grand finale to the year’s on-campus coat drive. With the shirts donated by the Moylan family, they were able to raise $1,200 through the 2017 T-shirt sale alone.

Heading into the 2018–2019 winter coat drive and fundraising efforts, the Klein brothers and Bundle Up Durham have raised close to $10,000.

After collecting coats, Bundle Up Durham turns them over to Melody Marshall, Durham Public Schools’ homeless liaison, who ensures that the coat donations find their way to the children who need them the most. While the majority of the funds raised are used to purchase additional coats, some are occasionally used to purchase essentials like underwear and socks for students in need.

Marshall works to ensure that the school district is complying with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act — legislation passed by Congress in 2002 that requires schools to meet the needs of homeless students and remove barriers to their attendance and success in school. The number of Durham Public Schools students who are identified as lacking a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” has hovered between 800 and 1,000 students over the past few years, so the need is great.

With older brothers David and Josh now away at college, they’ve left Bundle Up Durham in the hands of Benny, who is working to grow the organization’s reach. With the knowledge that donations to Bundle Up Durham — as a student club under DA’s 501(c)(3) designation — are 100 percent tax-deductible, the club has set a goal of soliciting major clothing companies for coat donations.

Benny also hopes to get students at other Durham schools on board by hosting their own coat drives.

“I’m really proud of him,” Josh said of Benny. “He has this commitment to getting things done. David and I would have a vision for something and set a goal, and he would say, let’s do it — making sure emails are getting sent, taking care of any little checklist item. His drive has helped the club immeasurably, and it’s been super fun to watch him grow as a leader. I think he will grow the club more than David and I could have and hopefully make it sustainable so that it’s not just a family affair when he graduates.”

Benny is working with faculty advisors Leyf Peirce Starling ’99 and Julian Cochran and fellow club members to ensure that the impact of Bundle Up Durham lives on well beyond his time at DA.

“I think about kids my age or just a little bit younger sitting out in the cold when we're so fortunate here at Durham Academy,” Benny said. “This is something we have the ability to help with.”

Learn how you can support Bundle Up Durham’s efforts

  • DA News
  • Magazine Winter 2019
  • Upper School News