How often do people consider if the homeless person sleeping in an exposed area is an adolescent? Or when was the last time a homeless adolescent had a decent meal? “Homeless Backpacks provide weekend food to homeless students,” founding board member of Homeless Backpacks, Kelly Wilson, says. Homeless Backpacks serves over half a dozen school districts in Washington.
The story of the organization starts with a group of women getting together to discuss what they could do for the homeless back in the early 2000s. The discussion led to each woman bringing a practical item to the next meeting to fill 20 backpacks.
“Back in 2006 when we started the program, the food was put into plastic grocery bags,” says Wilson. “It was obvious that there was food in the bags, so we provided each student being served a backpack to put the weekend food bag into. The student would walk into the counselor’s office with an empty backpack and walk out with a bag of food inside of it.”
When plastic bags were banned in Thurston County, Wilson and her team invested in an alternative bag that is thicker and heavier. “The cost of that bag is covered by bag sponsors who pay to put their logo on the bags,” Wilson explains.
“These bags are much thicker, so it is not obvious that it is a bag of food.”
Homeless Backpacks serves 573 students per week at $8 a bag; the recent cost has increased due to food cost increases. The organization doesn’t rely on government or grant funding, but instead depends on schools, churches, businesses, and two fundraisers they host each year to raise money and awareness. Unfortunately, this year’s fundraisers have been cancelled due to the pandemic and limitations on public social gatherings. “Homeless Backpack’s mission is to ‘End Homelessness One Face at a Time.’ ” says Wilson.
JORDAN MARIE MCCAW