What do you need? Tallahassee local, Amy Rodgers, asks this question to homeless men, women and children in Tallahassee almost daily. As simple as the question may seem, it is very telling and the answers range anywhere from food to clean socks or a toothbrush. Whatever necessity the homeless search for, Rodgers hands them a backpack with clean clothing, toiletries, granola bars, cans of soup–whatever she can possibly offer. Giving to those less fortunate in forms of a backpack filled with basic necessities is Rodgers’ grassroots mission called The Backpack Project.
The project started in 2015 when Rodgers and her two sons (currently ages five and two) got together with other moms and a group of kids to hand out toiletries to homeless people in plastic bags. Rodgers realized the homeless receiving the bags have nothing to even carry the Ziplocs in besides maybe a plastic Publix bag.
“I just started asking people through Facebook if they had any backpacks that me and my boys could have to put the toiletries in, and since there became more room for me to put other things in the packs, I started thinking bigger,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers soon started thinking of adding items like ponchos for the rainy summers, hand-knit hats, fleece blankets, etc. However, Rodgers learned along the way that one of the most needed items, but one of the least donated items is socks.
“One day my boys and I went to the shelter and handed out socks, and it was like I had a 100 dollar bill in my hand,” Rodgers said.
So far Rodgers has received help from the Tallahassee community through item donations and local business sponsorship. Perhaps Rodgers’ biggest helpers are her family–her husband, the owner of Euphoria Tattoo, and her two sons who aid her in assembling the backpacks and handing them out.
“My boys have been involved in it since day one. They’re totally into it, which I think is really neat. They see me talking to these people and learning that everyone is someone, which is one of my biggest things that has always been really important to me. If I could pass on something, that would be it,” Rodgers said.
When most people drive up to stop lights and see a homeless person clutching a sign for help, many will assume they just want money. Although that is true, the homeless often need something more specific–something many of us use on a daily basis without thinking twice.
“I’m learning something all the time about what can be used or what’s needed. Most of the time when you ask people what they need, they say something random like ‘I need diapers, my little boy is out of diapers.’ It wasn’t ‘I need money for diapers, it’s ‘I need diapers,’” Rodgers said.
Whether the need is food, toiletries, or clean clothes, there is a lack that needs to be filled in the homeless community. For the whole month of May, Quarter Moon is collecting monetary or item donations to help support Rodgers’ thoughtful and innovative project. Join us on Sunday, June 5th during Sunday Brunch as we put together backpacks with the objects donated at the store. A filled backpack means a filled need–a need the community can strive to alleviate.