Our community is just one of many that has seen a rise in homeless people. Among the many individuals we see forced to sleep on sidewalks and in tents are children and young adults. Now more than ever we need people and programs that are looking out for the homeless youth in our city. Lifelong Washingtonian Kelly Wilson saw the need 15 years ago and has worked ever since to help make a difference through her nonprofit organization All Kids Win, formerly Homeless Backpacks.
The idea originally started with helping homeless people as a whole. Kelly and her friends had been taking a class together about taking action in their own lives, and the topic of homelessness came up. After much discussion about the issue, the group collectively decided to get involved by distributing backpacks with survival supplies a few days before Thanksgiving. The Olympian came out to take a few photos of the distribution, and Kelly provided her phone number as a way to get in touch later for more details. Little did she know her number would be published with the story. “The next morning, my phone was blowing up,” she recalls. “People were asking how they could get involved.”
One of those calls happened to be from the Housing Authority of Thurston County, which manages an annual homeless census to collect data on the homeless population. “They asked if we would want to participate in that and we agreed.” It was through this census that this group of women learned the shocking truth about homeless youth in our area. The results showed that there were almost 700 homeless children in Thurston County. “That was mind-blowing,” Kelly says. “After seeing that, we knew kids were where we wanted to make an impact.”
Kelly began investigating gaps in services being offered in the community to homeless youth. What she came to realize was that kids in school were getting free breakfast and lunch during the school week, but likely didn’t have access to any food on the weekends. Kelly partnered with Robert Hoit at the Thurston County Food Bank, who had also been trying to find a way to help children in need. Robert advised what shelf-stable food to provide so children didn’t have to worry about refrigeration or heating. “We still use the same exact foods today,” Kelly says. “It was just the right combination.” Together, they serve children of all ages across the county to help keep our youth from going hungry.
The organization was originally called Homeless Backpacks and was recently changed to All Kids Win. “This was something we used to say at the end of every board meeting,” Kelly says. “We wanted to rename it something more positive, and this just made sense.”
They started out serving approximately 600 kids a week, which has grown to an astounding 1,100 kids a week, all thanks to the many dedicated volunteers. Kelly has been so grateful for their continued efforts, especially through this trying time. “I have met the most amazing, giving, kind-hearted, loving people,” she says. “Volunteers are truly the coolest people around.”
The experience of starting a nonprofit like this has been lifechanging. It has really helped her maintain perspective even through troubling times. Giving back and helping others has helped Kelly see the world in a whole new way. “If you look through the eyes of compassion, it helps you see how we all rise to the occasion to help one another,” Kelly says. “A lot of people out there are making a huge difference in the world and don’t even know it. I have the knowledge that I am making a difference, and that is a great feeling.”
Kelly has been deeply grateful to her family for their support and closeness, especially during this time. They have been and always will be hugely important to her. She has three children and two grandchildren, as well as a sister that is deeply involved in the organization. “I am blessed to have family so close,” she says. She has been especially fortunate to be able to have her family as part of her bubble during the pandemic. “We get together at least once a week for a family dinner,” Kelly says. It is more than most have, and Kelly feels blessed to have so many loved ones to share this beautiful life with.
Our community is lucky to have such exceptional people serving those in need. Kelly is a prime example of someone that cares deeply enough to get involved and make a difference. Her efforts along with many others in our community have made a huge impact, and they have proven through love, kindness, and togetherness, we can all win.
For more information, visit the All Kids Win website.