Backpack project aims at helping Champaign homeless

By Angelica Lavito

Walking down Green Street, students are likely to encounter some of Champaign’s homeless, people who don’t have the funds to give and receive gifts this holiday season.

But starting Dec. 9, students can help them by participating in the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen’s Back Pack Project.

Participants should fill backpacks with toiletries, cold weather items and other goods, according to the soup kitchen’s website. The backpacks should be labeled with the gender and size of the recipient, and children’s backpacks should be labeled by gender and age of the child.

The Daily Bread’s goal is to donate 1,000 backpacks, which will be distributed on Dec. 19 along with a sack lunch. Filled backpacks can be dropped off at Ellen Harms’ home, 705 S. Elm Blvd.; Pam Hagle’s home, 713 S. Elm Blvd.; or at the Daily Bread, 124 W. White St., starting Dec. 9.

“As a student, you see many of the people that we serve,” said Ellen Harms, board member of the Daily Bread. “We think that so many of the people we feed, the backpacks are the only Christmas gifts they have. They’re really delighted to get a backpack because they’re full of things they use.”

Harms said that although some might be “horrified” at receiving deodorant or lotion for the holidays, those who are homeless would appreciate these items.

“For the people we see every day, they can’t run to CVS and buy lotion. People come in all the time asking for socks, hats and mittens. I think (donating a backpack) is a very heartwarming thing to do,” Harms said.

Volunteers will sort and organize the backpacks on Dec. 18. Harms encourages students to donate backpacks in order to get involved in the community.

“I think that college is a wonderful four years, but it’s kind of an unreal world and it’s important to get out of that every now and then and see what’s happening around you,” Harms said.

Antoniya Ilieva, junior in AHS, is the project coordinator of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and volunteers at the soup kitchen often. She said she would like her fraternity to get involved in this project.

“I definitely want to help. I feel like it’s a good way to help guests (of the kitchen) and I think it’s a yearly thing and would be good for us to contribute. We have available resources to help,” Ilieva said.

Nick Davis, senior in Media, has been volunteering at the Daily Bread for three years, and encourages students to volunteer because of the experience.    

“It’s a volunteer experience where you’re not just volunteering. You’re also building friendships and knowing other volunteers and building relationships in the community,” he said. “A lot of people come to U of I and only know students, and these are all adults who have lived in Champaign and have lived all over and have these different experiences.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]