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 guys weren’t content sitting on the sidelines until then. So they decided to launch with BFTS.
Rather than wait to make it happen, the guys reached out to a handful of friends. “I said this is what we are doing. I need you to write me a check,” recalls Newman, who says the first round was funded within 72 hours.
While they knew the backpacks concept was not a revolutionary idea, the J’s knew it was the right program to get THO off the ground. Moreover, they knew they would bring their 10 years of experience into the process and put their own twist on bringing compassion and assistance to those living on the streets.
“This is about hope. This is about showing people who feel invisible and forgotten about that they matter and that someone cares,” says Newman. “We know this isn’t going to cure homelessness or get someone off the street. That’s what our other programs are about; the solutions. But this is about hope,and hope is where it all begins.”
With that, the first BFTS program took place on March 27, 2018.
Suited up with a dozen volunteers and 75 backpacks in tow, Newman and Conner hit the streets of New York City.
“It can be very lonely living on the street,” says Conner, who was homeless himself for two years when he and Newman met in 2004. “Many of the homeless are grateful that someone sees them as a person and treats them as if they matter.”
Each backpack is filled with a variety of 45-50 items (depending on the season) from socks and t-shirts to toiletries, necessities (such as first aid and sewing kits, flashlights) and hygiene products, as well as a dozen food items.
“We want them to know we care. These aren’t extras, off the back of a truck, or items people don’t want and trying to dispose of,” says Newman. “We carefully choose quality items and nutritious food, and put those things in a durable backpack that will hold up in all weather conditions.”
More importantly, they don’t just handoff a backpack and walk away. They take time to say hello and talk to the people. “When you take time to smile and offer a kind word,” says Newman. “It means more than you might realize.”
Backpacks For The Street is a program of Together Helping Others Inc, a recognized 501(c)(3) 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.