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 hope to people struggling with homelessness.
“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.”
Originally intended to be quarterly, BFTS took off, resonating with people the country, who discovered the program through social media and the news.
“We want people to know we care. They aren’t invisible or disposable,” says Newman. “It’s important they know they aren’t alone and they matter.”
By 2019, BFTS became bi-weekly. Then in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While much of the world shuttered, the Newman, Conner and the Backpacks For The Street crew hopped in a van and went into crisis mode, operating 18 hours a day, seven-days a week as an essential service.
As we hit our five year anniversary in 2023, BFTS has given out more than 82,000 packs, 26,000 meals and helped tens of thousands of individuals, providing nearly $2,000,000 in aid. And we still operate 365 days a year because, as Newman likes to say, “homelessness doesn’t take a day off, and neither do we.”
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 silver on GuideStar, a rating given to only 2% of the public charities it monitors for transparency.