The Backpack Project

A Peacemaking Project by Melissa D.

What is the injustice we are solving?

I started The Backpack Project in November 2016 when I was 10 year old after meeting people who are homeless in Chicago. I wanted to do something to help people, who have to live on the streets in the cold weather. I collected donations of backpacks, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, socks, tarps, hand warmers, wipes, tissues, lip balm, lotion, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, combs, food, and gift cards to easily accessible restaurants. I packed 84 backpacks that I hand delivered with my family to people in Chicago who are homeless. I met and talked with the people I gave the backpacks to. This winter The Backpack Project became even bigger. I collected donations and organized a packing party that over 60 people attended to pack 122 backpacks filled with supplies. I canceled my birthday party to have the packing party instead. This year I added small first aid kits and feminine care products to the backpacks. During one of the days that I was delivering backpacks under an expressway viaduct, streets and sanitation workers were clearing away the belongings of the people living in tents. They were just throwing the only things that they owned into garbage trucks. I was able to speak out against this happening in below zero temperatures, and I was able to give some people backpacks full of supplies for them to get started again. The local news stations were contacted about what was happening, and I was interviewed for a local nightly news broadcast. I am continuing to deliver backpacks. I would like to do more for people who are homeless, including expanding my project to help people find affordable housing and more options for shelter from the cold weather. When I talked with some of the homeless people that I met, they told me that some of the homeless shelters have closed because of funding, and the shelters become full when the weather is the coldest. They cannot always get into the shelters. I have learned about other reasons that homeless people cannot always utilize shelters. For example, there are limitations on what can be brought into the shelter. If a person has a tent or more belongings than they can carry in a small bag, that cannot be brought into a shelter and is at risk for being dumped or stolen. Some people take turns going to a shelter in the below zero temperatures and watching their limited belongings, which may just be more than what they can bring into a shelter. I am hoping to raise enough money to continue working on helping people who are homeless find the resources and affordable housing. I am also working on talking with community leaders to make sure people's blankets, clothing, and supplies are not thrown in the garbage during the coldest weather.