Senior’s ‘#716 Rainbow Hunt’ t-shirt sales to benefit needy families

Roger Coda
student in front of decorated door

Julianna Owczarczak, in front of her Buffalo STRONG #716 Rainbow Hunt mural at her parents’ home in West Seneca (photo by Andrew Young, courtesy of Spectrum).

Julianna Owczarczak’s third and final student teaching placement was curtailed when public schools were shut down in mid-March due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, so the Fredonia senior launched a project that will help nourish children in another way.

From almost out of nowhere, Ms. Owczarczak’s “Buffalo Strong #716 Rainbow Hunt” campaign received orders for 372 t-shirts in a mere two weeks, generating proceeds and donations that will benefit needy families in four Western New York school districts that the Early Childhood/Childhood Education major is connected to in some way.

“I was overjoyed with the amount of support I received,” Owczarczak said. “I received donations and t-shirt orders from literally every corner of the country: Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois and Wyoming. The vast majority of these amazing people were born and raised right out of the Buffalo area.

“This experience alone was a true testament to how and why Buffalo has earned its name as the ‘city of good neighbors.’” 

The t-shirt’s design is based on “Buffalo STRONG #716 Rainbow Hunt,” a full-length mural Owczarczak painted on the front door of her parents’ West Seneca home. It originally appeared in a small private Facebook group, started by Owczarczak’s sister-in-law, Nicole, that shared photos of creative art – rainbows, chalk drawings and other sketches – that family members placed on sidewalks, in windows and on front doors to spread hope, joy and happiness through this difficult time.

“I guess I didn’t have expectations, didn’t know where this would go. I didn’t think it would get this big, but after week one we had sales of about 200 t-shirts,” - Julianna Owczarczak

More family members were quickly added to the Facebook group, and soon after it went public, over 1,400 people had climbed aboard.

"It really was an initiative to spread hope and happiness throughout neighborhoods throughout Buffalo,” Owczarczak told Spectrum news in a cover story that aired on April 29.

The Facebook posting – as well as the now-famous Owczarczak front door mural – generated a large online response that included a suggestion to place that design on t-shirts that would be sold to raise money for a local organization during the coronavirus pandemic.

Owczarczak’s father got his daughter hooked up with a screen printer, formerly of Hamburg, in Georgia to get the ball rolling.

The campaign began quietly and without lofty expectations, but the public quickly latched onto the idea after the Spectrum news story was aired. A podcast and social media also got the message out in a big way.

“I guess I didn’t have expectations, didn’t know where this would go,” Owczarczak acknowledged. “I didn’t think it would get this big, but after week one we had sales of about 200 t-shirts.”

School districts chosen as recipients have agreed to use their portion of the proceeds to buy grocery store gift cards that they’ll give to families in their area who are struggling.

“Initially, I was very surprised at the amount of families who depended on school meals to get their children through their day, and that was prior to this pandemic. I started this campaign because I was able to see this, firsthand,” Owczarczak said. “I only hope that my efforts will provide relief for some families, even if for a short period of time.” 

Owczarczak graduated from West Seneca West Senior High School in 2016, so that district was an obvious choice. Other districts include Orchard Park, where Owczarczak’s eight nieces and nephews are enrolled; Hamburg, where she completed student teacher placements; and Depew, where a sister is a school counselor.

The youngest of six children, Owczarczak always enjoyed helping to care for her many nieces and nephews, so becoming an elementary teacher was an obvious career choice. Early on, she developed a passion for young children, and her five older siblings became her first teachers. All five brothers and sisters have college degrees, and two, Kristin and Matthew, are Fredonia graduates.

Owczarczak, who will graduate summa cum laude with a B.S. in Early Childhood/Childhood Education, hopes to begin job interviews soon for teaching positions and plans to enroll in the Early Childhood Exceptional Education graduate program at SUNY Buffalo State this fall.

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