Backpack program helps fill homeless kids' needs
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Leidemann
When you don't have a home, you sometimes have to carry everything you own on your back. Imagine then how important a sturdy, clean backpack can be.
That's the thought behind a new program designed to give 1,700 new "survival" backpacks to homeless and runaway youth in Hawai'i.
The Aloha United Way, state labor union officials and private businesses yesterday began spreading the backpacks — filled with basic supplies ranging from socks to pens to toiletries — to social service providers across the state, who will distribute them to needy families.
"When you're on the street, a backpack to carry your belongings around is right up there with shelter and food when it comes to basic needs," said Darlene Hein, program director for the Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van outreach program. "It's one thing we get asked to supply over and over again."
Hein said the backpacks are in so much demand among homeless families that she often spends part of her weekend going to garage sales looking for old ones she can give to her clients.
"Backpacks can really get you through," she said. "There's a big difference for children who carry their books to school in an old plastic bag and those who have a brand new backpack like everyone else. The backpack makes them feel like they belong."
Aloha United Way officials said the survival backpack program was originally intended to start small, with about 200 made available to a shelter for runaway youth in Waikiki as part of an annual holiday service project.
Lynn Ching, a volunteer services coordinator for the AFL-CIO, said the program quickly grew in scope when the need became apparent. The health care company Summerlin provided all the full-sized backpacks, and labor union members and other companies donated materials and labor to fill the packs with the necessities of life.
Other items included in each backpack include notepads, soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and paste, a hand towel and razor.
The backpacks will be distributed through neighborhood shelters and outreach providers on all islands, Ching said. "The idea is to get this survival gear to as many youths on the street as we can," she said.
Reach Mike Leidemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.