Running a backpack drive is much simpler than it seems. All you gotta do is get backpacks and stuff to fill them with, fill the backpacks, then go find people who could use them.
To organize your own backpack distribution event, you need the following things
- A coordinator / team lead (can be a volunteer or a member of your organization)
- A team of volunteers to be backpack distributors
- A volunteer with a vehicle for each group of backpack distributors (we suggest groups of 4 or more for safety purposes)
- Backpacks filled with supplies (here’s a list of suggested items for your backpacks!)
- A designated meetup location for volunteers
- A camera to take pictures and / or video
How to collect backpacks
All persons involved in the collection drive should tap into their personal social networks. Reach out to your existing communities. Soccer moms, parent / teacher organizations, and your own Facebook friends are great networks to utilize. People will want to help once they learn that you will be handing out backpacks to those less fortunate. Each individual can coordinate donation locations as they see fit, or if the drive is associated with a larger organization such as a school, church, charity, or business, then that organization can determine a donation collection zone.
The event coordinator should keep a log of what each person donated so they can publicly thank them on social media. People love to be recognized for their charitable efforts!
Picking Backpack Distribution Locations
- Before you start handing out your backpacks, pick a central location with a known homeless population. If you’re not sure where to go, try a Google Map search for homeless shelters and / or food banks and locate parks near those locations.
- Simply drive or walk around that general area and find individuals that need help. It is recommended that each team lead sets up a meeting location before going out to hand out backpacks and supplies. During this meeting, final details of the event can be ironed out among volunteers.
- Split the donated backpacks and materials among groups, if there are multiple carloads of volunteers. Each car can determine which parks or areas they will target.
- Take lots of pictures to share with friends and family!
Backpack Distribution Tips
We believe in the power of helping the homeless population on the streets. For this reason, we have chosen a unique, guerilla-style outreach model of seeking out groups of homeless people to help. While this outreach method is relatively risk-free, there are still some essential tips to keep in mind to prevent incidents and ensure the safety of your volunteers. Keep in mind that many homeless individuals may suffer from mental illness or addiction, and can be unpredictable. Always exercise caution and common sense when working directly with this population.
- Initiate contact as a group. Don’t have one person approach large groups by themselves. There’s safety in numbers!
- Never approach groups who look dangerous or are under the influence of a controlled substance.
- When initiating contact, always ask first if somebody is thirsty, and have a Gatorade in hand. It’s an easy ice-breaker. If they say yes, then you can ask if there’s anything else they need. (watch eyes light up when you ask if the need socks next!)
- Respect their personal space and treat them with dignity. All we’re doing is trying to help those who need it most and brighten somebody’s day a little. We are not here to judge.
- Children should ALWAYS be supervised by at least 2 adults. It is recommended that children never initiate contact or personally distribute supplies, but this is up to the discretion of their caregivers.
- Always be aware of your surroundings
- Always stay in well-lit areas that are densely populated
- If you spot a homeless population that exceeds the amount of materials you have to distribute, try to find smaller groups to assist
- Try to have at least one or two grown adults who can handle themselves in sticky situations
- Each volunteer should have a cell phone on them in case they need to contact the authorities
- Don’t venture into isolated areas
- Make sure you have the contact information of other people in your group in case you get separated from each other
The most important part of this charity is to inspire your friends and family to do the same thing. Every person you help on the street is an invaluable opportunity to inspire your friends and family to do the same. To some it might feel odd to video tape yourself doing kind things, or taking pictures. But if you do, and you upload these acts of kindness to your social media accounts, others will see it and some will get up and do the same thing! Make sure when you do upload pics and video to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and Vine that you use the hashtag #reKindleKindness so others can more easily find your video!
One of the best things about running your own “I Got Your Back” Backpack Drive is the time you all spend together searching for people who need help. Each event is a unique experience for everyone. Sometimes you end up driving around for a while, without finding anyone to help. Some days you go out and all your materials are gone as soon as you pop open your trunk. But there are great teaching moments if parents decide to bring kids, and lots of time to reflect on how lucky we all are to be able to be in a position to help others. By the end of the day, you will form great bonds with your team of volunteers and have an incredible experience to share!