Backpack JourneyMaking The Magic Happen
The idea to launch a backpacks program for people living on the streets came about one night in February, 2018. Co-founders Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner were beginning the process of creating Together Helping Others, their full-service nonprofit for the homeless. Realizing that it would take significant time to get THO launched, the J’s weren’t content sitting on the sidelines until then. During one of their midnight pow-wows, one of J’s said, “Hey, other J. Why don’t we start a backpack program to kick of THO?” To which the other J immediately said, “Definitely, other J.”
They reached out to a handful of friends, who each donated money, and within 72 hours, the first Backpacks For The Street was funded. The plan was to start with 50 backpacks. But, once word got out, donations started pouring in, and they J’s moved that figure to 75 packs.
The first Backpacks For The Street program took place on March 27, 2018, in New York City. With 19 volunteers, lead by Newman and Conner, the crew handed out 75 backpacks, made up of more than 5,000 individual items, to the homeless over a four-hour period.
It was an experience that changed lives, of not only the homeless, but also of the volunteers who shared in that experience.
“We want them to know we care; we’re not just tossing a backpack at them and walking away,” says Newman. “We want them to know we carefully chose each item that we put in each backpack. We even took time to choose the best, and most durable kind of backpack, so it would hold up in all weather conditions. These aren’t extras, off the back of a truck, of items people don’t want and trying to dispose of.”
Adds Conner, who was homeless himself from 2002 – 2004; first in San Francisco, then in New York City: “It can be very lonely living on the street. Many are grateful that someone sees them as a person as they matter. When you take time to smile and offer a kind word, it means more than you might realize.”
Each backpack is filled with a variety of items from socks and t-shirts, to toiletries, such as soap, shampoo, shaving cream, razors, tooth brushes and tooth paste, deodorant, and hygiene products. We also include food, such as peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad with crackers, Gatorade, water, Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks and slim jims, among others. The latter is particularly good, because for people who have issues with their teeth and chewing things, they can suck on the slim Jims and get the protein value.
The packs also include flashlights, first aid kits, sewing kits, nail clipper, hair brush and comb, pen and pad, and much more.
While they knew that backpacks to help the homeless was not a revolutionary idea, the J’s knew it was the right program to be the first roll out of THO. Moreover, they knew that they they could put their own twist on it to make it their own to offer true assistance to the homeless.
BFTS’ second outing was July 9-12, 2018, including two days for packing and assembling, BFTS gave out more than 150 backpacks, over three nights, with the help of about 50 volunteers, who filled 85 volunteer shifts. The J’s estimate more than 10,000 individual pieces made up the 13 dozen packs.
“It can be very lonely living on the street. Many are grateful that someone sees them as a person like they matter,” says Newman. “We can do better. We MUST do better. I know we, as a society can.”
Read what our Backpacks For The Street volunteers are saying.
Beginning in 2019, the program switched from quarterly to bi-weekly.
Since its inception, BFTS has given out more than 2,600 backpacks, 16,000 feminine hygiene products, 10,000 Mylar blankets and over 1,300 meals.
Backpacks For The Street is supported by the generosity of its donors and corporate sponsors. 100% of every day donated goes to help the homeless. As such, we depend on the generosity of people like you.
Whether it’s $5, $50 or $500, every dollar makes a difference and helps us provide services to the unsheltered.
For more information, please contact the BFTS Office.
Backpacks For The Street is a program under Together Helping Others Inc, a recognized 501c3 public charity. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Together Helping Others is rated bronze on GuideStar, a rating given to only 2% of the public charities it monitors for transparency.