Thursday, September 17, 2015

Staying in Action: Backpack Brigade

A few months back we learned of Amy Krigsman's Backpack Brigade idea and have been following along with her project. We invited Amy to share her experience on the blog. Thanks for reading.

My name is Amy Krigsman. I attended LeaderShape's Institute program Boston in May 2014. As a part of our journey at the Institute, we are tasked with coming up with our vision for the world and how we would go about achieving that vision. I will tell you that eradicating homelessness was not my vision then. It has become one of them since.

This all started with a YouTube video of a kid in California that put together some backpacks and took to the streets to hand them out to the homeless. The smiles on those people's faces were contagious. I knew I wanted to do something similar in my community. I reached out to several different organizations that I was a part of and had very little success.

The first attempt at this project was done with a small group and yielded about 10 backpacks. We took to the streets of downtown Dallas and the reactions we got were indescribable. The gratitude written on the faces of those we’d helped was priceless. The experience was intense, to say the least, and it made me reevaluate the things I took for granted: fresh fruits and vegetables, the television with 500 channels and still nothing to watch, a hot shower, my mind. But we didn't anticipate how extensive and hard-hit homelessness was in Dallas.

Just below the overpass of I-30 where it intersects 45, you'll find a city within a city. This city is built with tents and camp chairs. It extends out for several blocks, a neighborhood of abandoned homes and businesses being used as shelter for those that have nowhere else to call home.

I knew I had to do more. I regrouped and decided my next goal was to assemble and distribute 100 backpacks and hot meals, to increase my efforts tenfold.

On Saturday, August 22, a group of 12 met downtown with 60 backpacks and jambalaya in tow. The distribution itself was frenzied, but the gratitude radiated. Following the distribution, we had the opportunity to walk around and talk to the residents, to find out more about them and what they needed. In addition, important contacts were made with other groups also on a mission to find a solution.

The project raised over $1,200 in monetary donations and another $1,000 worth of product donations. I am completely blown away by the support this project has received in such a short amount of time.

The goal of this project was not to facilitate or enable a cycle. It was to be kind and generous and to let our fellow men and women know that they are not forgotten and that they matter.

The problem with homelessness in America is not that there are no resources. The problem is that resources are few and people that care are fewer. Further, there is no solution, only Band-Aids to cover up the problem so we don’t see it. What needs to happen is the establishment of dedicated facilities that take in the homeless and rehabilitate them, instead of turning them back out on the street. These facilities need to include shelter, drug addiction counseling, and career counseling, so those in need can truly be integrated back into society and have a solid foundation to build on.

If homelessness is to be eradicated, the conversation surrounding it needs to change. I want you to stop for a minute and think about the last time you saw someone on the street asking for help. What thoughts were going through your head? Did you wonder why they couldn’t just go out and get a job instead of begging for your hard-earned money? Did you help them or did you keep driving? Did you even make eye contact? Up until about six months ago, I was one of those people that didn’t make eye contact and kept driving. Part of that was my upbringing. I grew up in an environment that did not look favorably on the poor and decrepit and did not see homelessness as a cause worthy of donating to. Part of initiating this project was overcoming my own stereotypes and changing the conversation I had with myself.

My hope is that the Backpack Brigade will become a force that has the ability to start to change the conversation surrounding homelessness. Because the Backpack Brigade is not a registered 501(c)3 at the present time, finding support is difficult, however, the next round of backpacks are tentatively scheduled to go out in March and then again in October. Beyond that, my goal for this cause is to establish a 501(c)3 non-profit and build a facility dedicated to rehabilitating the homeless. That is a 2- to 3-year plan.

The possibilities for contributing to the cause are literally endless. We realized on Saturday that even the 60 backpacks we were able to put together were not enough. In March, I hope to double the number of backpacks we are able to hand out. It is never too soon to begin donating funds or supplies. I will be rebooting the GoFundMe page within the next few weeks, as well as reaching out to potential corporate sponsors. Recognition will be a huge part of this. The more people that know about our efforts and the problem at hand, the more we can do to solve it. Media support is something that I desperately hope to acquire before the next round in March. If you or anyone you know are interested in supporting the Backpack Brigade, I can be contacted by email at

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