Homeless Backpacks – Students Helping Students

homeless backpacks
Aspire Middle School has partnered with Hometown Property Management and Dzines to support Homeless Backpacks. Pictured here is Emily Duncan, Alana Hall, Kylee Bair, and Lilliana Peden.


By Alyssa Ramsfield

hometown logoThe Homeless Backpacks organization began with one mission: to end homelessness, one student at a time. As the need in our area continues to grow, the organization grows along with it. (Read the history of the local nonprofit organization here.) Many teens are fed through government funded programs during the day, but when they leave school for the weekend, there aren’t many nutritional options. This is where Homeless Backpacks jumps in – providing meals for hungry kids throughout the weekend.

homeless backpack
Aspire Middle School students, Tyler Underwood and Ryan Moe, sort food for an upcoming Homeless Backpack delivery.

“My husband Dan and I got involved with Homeless Backpacks in November 2012 when they needed volunteers for their Annual Bountiful Harvest Auction,” explains Homeless Backpacks board member, Shelley Nicholson. “It was a huge eye opener for both of us. We had no clue how many homeless students were in our community. Homeless Backpacks is truly a special program.”

Homeless Backpacks works to feed teens through a simple solution: backpacks filled with food. “The schools do an amazing job of making sure students have a healthy breakfast and lunch during the school week,” says Nicholson.

“Our hope is to take away that worry from students who do not have food at home when the school bell rings on Friday afternoon.  We answer the question about where their meals will come from all weekend. We are there to fill in that gap by providing weekend food bags, filled with foods kids will actually eat,” adds Nicholson.

The organization runs on partnerships between volunteers and donations. This year, they have worked to get students involved. “We asked our friends from Hometown Property Management and Dzines if they would like to be PIE Partners with us and join forces making this an amazing year for Aspire Middle School students. They happily agreed since their son is a current Aspire student,” explains Nicholson.  “When we sat down for our first meeting with Aspire, we laid out a plan to go hand in hand with the Compassion Program North Thurston Public Schools is sharing with students and the community at large. We wanted the students to have an opportunity to give back – thus showing compassion but in a unique way. So we thought…kids helping kids. Homeless Backpacks is a perfect fit for this.”

homeless backpacks
Autumn Hakes, Valerie Mosier, Aubrey Martin, and
Emily Preuss participate in a fundraiser to bring in food items for Homeless Backpacks.

“I have really enjoyed the partnership with Aspire Middle school this year,” adds Hometown Property Management owner, Andrew Barkis.  “Working with the students and seeing their genuine concern for others has been incredible.”

This partnership with the school has been a yearlong work in progress. “In the fall, all Aspire students wrote a short note to Homeless Backpacks students that were sent out over Thanksgiving,” explains Nicholson. “In January, Aspire held a school-wide food drive to college items for the Homeless Backpacks  bags. In March, the final stage of this project is a school wide bagging party.”

“I hope that when the students get older and become a part of the working community they remember seeing businesses such as Dzines and Hometown Property Management give back to the schools and are inspired to do the same,” adds Nicholson.

The partnership with the students of Aspire has made an impact. “I think that students partnering up with Homeless Backpacks is a good idea,” describes Aspire 8th grader, Maile Brown. “We can learn about how to do community service and learn what it is like for others who aren’t as fortunate as us. It shows us that there are other kids who don’t have enough food. It makes me sad but it also makes me feel like I can help them.”

homeless backpacks
Aspire Middle School has partnered with Hometown Property Management and Dzines to support Homeless Backpacks. Pictured here is Emily Duncan, Alana Hall, Kylee Bair, and Lilliana Peden.

With students helping students, the future is bright for Homeless Backpacks. “It is easy to put blinders on and think that in such a clean well-kept community such as Lacey that there is no homelessness, but that in fact is not true,” says Nicholson.

Homeless Backpacks is currently serving over 400 students a week with weekend food bags. “These kids all have unique stories…some are couch hopping, some living in cars (with or without their families), some are staying in shelters or homeless camps in the area,” says Nicholson.

“I truly hope that the Aspire students are humbled by this experience and are aware that someday they may be sitting in class next to a homeless student or be one themselves. I know as a kid it is hard to think you can be part of solving the problem, but just knowing where to go for help can make a difference in a student’s life,” summarizes Nicholson.

For more information on Homeless Backpacks or to become a volunteer visit http://www.homelessbackpacks.org/


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