It poured rain on October 26 for our backpack stuffing, and on October 27 we discovered that all roads to our distribution location were blocked. But these obstacles only proved how devoted our volunteers are!
On Saturday, over 45 volunteers braved torrential downpours to help us stuff 500 backpacks. Out of the 500 backpacks we filled with essentials, 300 of them were picked up by nine organizations such as Places for People, Jefferson County Rescue Mission, and Youth in Need who hand them out throughout the winter to those in need living on the streets. Then we loaded 200 more into a truck to await our special one-on-one distribution in Downtown St. Louis on Sunday.
Arriving early downtown to set up, I discovered that Market Street, where our distribution site was located, and the side streets were closed for a couple of miles in both directions for a huge charity walk. After getting permission to cross one of the barricades and finding my contact person from City Hall, I was concerned that most of our volunteers would have so much difficulty getting there that they would give up and return home. Instead, our determined volunteers brushed off the inconvenience, parked several blocks away, or managed to find the side street where we had permission to go around the barrier and park. We ended up with over 100 volunteers who were happy to find us and amazed to find that many of our unhoused guests had been excitedly lining up for our 12:00 start.
After set-up and a presentation of the features of our Citypak Backpacks, all of the essentials inside, and the importance of the handmade scarves displayed on the outside of each backpack, we began our distribution right on time. Volunteers were at various stations ready to write contact information in guests’ backpacks, entertain young children, disperse feminine hygiene products, and help each guest pick out a new hoodie. The rest of the volunteers controlled the flow of guests into the event or lined up waiting to be introduced to a guest so they could help them get their backpacks. Between noon and 1:30, we handed out 201 backpacks and made at least that many new friends.
Many of our volunteers return year after year, bringing friends with them and spreading the word that doing good feels good. Those who were there for the first time were asking before we finished cleaning up if they could come back next year. They beamed when we assured them we couldn’t wait to see them next year!