Non-profit groups and charity organizations are an important part of any community. From helping low-income residents find housing to supporting local environmental causes, non-profits and charities advocate and organize to improve the communities they serve.

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Homeless Backpacks works toward its mission of ending the cycle of homelessness by providing backpacks full of food for homeless teens during the weekend. Photo courtesy: Homeless Backpacks.

But these groups do not do it alone. In order for charities and non-profit organizations to be successful, they heavily rely on the support of volunteers and donations.

I-5 Cars owner Heidi Pehl and her team at Volkswagen of Olympia understand the importance of supporting organizations that benefit the community, which is why the local dealership continuously finds ways to give back.

Over the holiday season, Volkswagen of Olympia continued I-5 Cars’ more than 10-year tradition of supporting local charitable causes during the week of Thanksgiving by donating $25 for every new Volkswagen test driven that week. The funds raised during the promotion went to benefit Olympia-based non-profit Homeless Backpacks.

For a non-profit organization like Homeless Backpacks, whose mission is to end the cycle of homelessness by providing food for homeless teens in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties, monetary donations and food drives are what keep this non-profit going strong.

“We live on donations,” said Homeless Backpacks founding board member, Kelly Wilson.

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From November 22 to December 1, 2015, Volkswagen of Olympia donated $25 for ever new Volkswagen test driven. Photo courtesy: Volkswagen of Olympia.

Providing weekend food to more than 400 homeless middle and high school students across the region, Homeless Backpacks is able to feed local teens who would otherwise go without Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday dinner.

“The funds raised are fabulous,” Wilson said. “They are dollars we do not have to try to raise ourselves.” Because Homeless Backpacks does not receive grants of any kind, the non-profit group relies solely on monetary and food donations from individuals and businesses throughout the community.

But Volkswagen of Olympia’s donation was bigger than just dollars and cents. The local car dealership also helped raise awareness about Homeless Backpacks, its mission, and how the organization impacts the communities it serves. “Because Volkswagen of Olympia has such long reaching arms, they can introduce people to our organization that we would not normally have access to,” Wilson said.

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Homeless Backpacks founding board member, Kelly Wilson, donates her time to help end homelessness in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor Counties. Photo courtesy: Homeless Backpacks.

This increased level of awareness was made evident to Wilson when she was checking Homeless Backpack’s Facebook page. Wilson said during the week of Thanksgiving, she saw a noticeable increase in the non-profit’s Facebook following. This kind of impact, Wilson said, is priceless. “In the long term, it is new donors, new volunteers, new energy, new board members and new opportunities that have a lasting impact,” she added.

During the week of Thanksgiving, 74 new Volkswagens were test driven, raising Homeless backpacks a total donation of $1,850. Wilson said it costs $8 to feed a teen for the weekend. Multiply this amount by the number of teens Homeless Backpacks serves on a weekly basis, and it is easy to see why every dollar counts — the need is immense.

It was this level of need that caught Volkswagen of Olympia’s attention when deciding what charitable organization to support. “This is a program that really caught our attention,” Pehl said. “Many of these kids don’t really have a home or home life, and they don’t have supplies for school. Supporting this organization is great way to impact the kids who need help in Thurston County.”

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Homeless Backpacks turns to community donations in the forms of dollars and food to stock backpacks with items like ravioli, chili, tuna, oatmeal and more. Photo courtesy: Homeless Backpacks.

And the impact Volkswagen of Olympia’s donation made for Homeless Backpacks is tremendous.

Wilson said Volkswagen of Olympia’s donation to Homeless Backpacks helped the Olympia non-profit start the new year off bright. As Homeless Backpacks rolls into 2016, Wilson said she is going to be working hard to inspire other communities to start versions of Homeless Backpacks in their towns, continuing the fight to “end homeless, one student at a time” across Washington and beyond.

Volkswagen of Olympia and I-5 Cars are passionate about supporting the communities they serve. For more information about Volkswagen of Olympia, visit Volkswagen of Olympia online or in person at its West Olympia location in the Olympia Auto Mall.

For more information about volunteering or donating to Homeless Backpacks, visit Homeless Backpacks online.


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