How often do you consider whether the homeless person sleeping in an exposed area is an adolescent? Or that it may have been awhile since that homeless adolescent had a decent meal?
That’s where Homeless Backpacks comes in. The nonprofit organization provides weekend food to homeless students. According to Kelly Wilson, Homeless Backpacks chair and founding board member, the program serves more than half a dozen school districts in Washington.
The organization began with a group of women getting together in the early 2000s to discuss what they could do for the homeless. The discussion led to the plan for each person to bring a “survival” item to the next meeting to fill 20 backpacks. The program’s focus evolved to provide food on the weekend for homeless middle school and high school teens.
“Back in 2006 when we started the meal program, the food was put into plastic grocery bags,” recalls 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.”
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 organization doesn’t receive government or grant funding. Instead, it relies on schools, churches and businesses. It also hosts two fundraisers each year to raise money and awareness.
“Our goal for Homeless Backpacks has always been to inspire and mentor other communities to produce a similar program,” says Wilson. “We are proud to say that through our mentorship and support, there are now similar programs in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason and Pierce counties. We hope to reach more communities in the coming years.”
JORDAN MARIE MCCAW