The path to filling and distributing backpacks for the homeless and creating BACK@YOU wasn’t straightforward. In fact, the idea behind BACK@YOU was born many years ago.
Kathy’s Passion Is Kindled
For many years, Kathy, the founder of BACK@YOU, worked in Section 8, helping to secure housing for recently homeless and at-risk families in St. Louis. Working so closely with people right on the cusp of homelessness brought her face to face with how precarious our positions in life are. She was moved to help. She began volunteering at soup kitchens and shelters. She started carrying extra pocket money to give to panhandlers. She noticed that people who gave money to the homeless often made no eye contact and said nothing. It was as if the givers wanted to get rid of the change in their pockets without ever really seeing the people who needed it. Kathy vowed never to treat people living on the street as if they were invisible. And she began by ensuring that every bill she handed out came with a kind word and a moment of conversation.
Wanting to Do More
Kathy knew she wanted to do more. She started by donating gloves and socks for the men at a homeless shelter where she volunteered. She noticed many homeless people carrying their few possessions in plastic bags. Those who had backpacks treasured them and crammed them full. Having their belongings close at hand and safely on their backs seemed to comfort them. That’s when she had her idea. She decided to buy backpacks for the homeless and fill them with useful supplies. Kathy robbed her piggy bank and bought 20 backpacks. Then she had only to put something in them.
Backpacks for the Homeless – The Idea Picks up Speed
Socks and gloves were easy. But Kathy wanted these backpacks to make the recipients feel special. She wanted them to feel as if they had gotten a personal gift. Kathy started crocheting scarves. For many months, she would come home every night from work and crochet until bedtime. One by one, the scarves piled up. She started telling people about the project. To her surprise, people loved the idea and wanted to help. Before she knew it, the 20 backpacks were filling up! They were stuffed with fleece throws, snacks, and bags of personal-hygiene items. Kathy felt energized, and she kept on telling people about the project. A stranger on the train overheard her talking about the backpacks and showed up the next morning with antibacterial wipes and personal packets of tissue. The idea was catching!
BACK@YOU Is Born!
The project seemed miraculously to grow legs—and then it started running! Shortly before Thanksgiving 2014, Kathy and three other volunteers gave out the backpacks at The Bridge Outreach, St. Louis, a homeless sanctuary. They received an overwhelmingly grateful response. So Kathy decided to take the project to the next level. She and a small group of trusted friends and family registered BACK@YOU as a Missouri-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. BACK@YOU has only gained momentum throughout 2015, and our first official distribution as public charity will take place on October 10, 2015!
You Can Help, Too!
You can help BACK@YOU by donating money to buy essential items and backpacks for the homeless living in our community. You can also purchase items for the backpacks through our Amazon wish list. And you can knit or crochet neutral-colored scarves that show you truly care. In October, we will need help filling and distributing backpacks. Work with us to show our homeless neighbors that we see them and that they matter to us!