Showing St Louis’ unhoused neighbors kindness and respect, one CITYPAK backpack, and one handmade scarf at a time.
BACK@YOU supplies CITYPAK backpacks to their St. Louis neighbors experiencing homelessness. In addition to filling the PAKs with personal necessities, BACK@YOU adds a handmade scarf to each CITYPAK, reminding recipients that there is kindness, comfort, and respect being given to them. The goal is to make each person on the streets know that they are not invisible, they matter, and they are worthy of warmth, both literally and figuratively.
What started in 2014 as one individual looking to make a positive impact in her local community has since grown into a 501(c)(3) public charity, and an annual event which now distributes 500 filled backpacks.
Having worked with the unhoused population for over 18 years, BACK@YOU’s founder Kathy Acre was familiar with the community, and while she knew she couldn’t solve local housing issues, she knew she could help. Seeing a house as a ‘space’ in which to store things, the goal was to provide those experiencing homelessness with a sturdy, dry, and large enough ‘space’ to store their essentials, and ensure that they had other items they’d need in the meantime. With many who live on the streets being forced to carry their possessions in plastic bags or other less durable forms of storage, it was determined that a backpack would be ideal for storage and would be practical.
After visiting hiking, camping, and department stores in search of the ideal backpack, and not finding a product which they felt would be a good fit, CITYPAK finally entered the picture.
In CITYPAK, BACK@YOU found a backpack that is specifically designed for life on the streets. Key PAK features include ample storage room for clothing and medication, velcro and anti-rust buckle closings (to help keep items safe and dry), and looped webbing which secures the bag to the arm or leg (helping to avoid theft during rest). PAKs also viewed as durable, and high-quality - important features our partners, and those they serve, value.
While sourcing a backpack with the features they needed was crucial for BACK@YOU, in researching CITYPAK it was clear that the missions of the two organizations (respect, kindness, and meeting people where they live) were closely aligned. Not seeing another backpack for the homeless or charitable business out there which compared helped CITYPAK to secure not just BACK@YOU’s business, but their trust too.
Since 2014 BACK@YOU has now distributed over 2000 CITYPAKs, which are filled with essentials that help those experiencing homelessness survive life on the streets. They work closely with wholesalers to secure items to put inside the PAKs, which are distributed in late October / early November. Some of the CITYPAK’s go to BACK@YOU partner organizations such as homeless shelters and churches, with the remaining being held aside for BACK@YOU’s own in-person distribution event. Today, when people see someone in the greater St Louis area with a CITYPAK, they know it came from BACK@YOU.
BACK@YOU’s goal isn’t only to ensure that those experiencing homelessness receive a backpack. They also want to facilitate connection and engagement within their community. Every guest at the distribution event is paired with a community volunteer, allowing an opportunity for two-way conversation and support. Many volunteers return year after year, indicating that the experience has been life-changing. By bringing unhoused persons and community volunteers together to share awareness, compassion, kindness, and respect, BACK@YOU makes a truly positive impact to its communities. CITYPAK is proud to be part of this journey.
" CITYPAK backpacks are high-quality, specialized backpacks that hold the items that we feel are essentials for surviving life on the streets in the St. Louis winter. Our recipients know that they are being shown respect and kindness by an organization that cares. We are grateful to have CITYPAK Project be part of that." - Kathy Acre, Founder, and President, BACK@YOU
Photo used with permission from BACK@YOU