GREENFIELD — It was nearly a year ago that Jim Matthews handed a backpack filled with soap, shampoo and toothpaste to a homeless man he met a Greenfield street. It was an autumn afternoon.
Matthews had chatted with the man, learned of his situation and decided he wanted to help.
The interaction led Matthews and his wife, Cathy, to create Greenfield’s BackPacks of Hope organization in September. Since then, they’ve handed out more than 100 packs filled with toiletries to men, women and children in need in Hancock County.
Now, the couple are seeking donations of supplies to help grow their mission, Jim Matthews said. The hope is to bring attention to a problem in the county the couple believe is widely overlooked.
“The homeless here don’t live on the streets; they live in the woods or on other people’s couches,” Jim Matthews said. “For some people it’s short term; for some it’s long term. But they are here.”
Shelley Septer created BackPacks of Hope in memory of her son, John Zachery Septer, in Fort Wayne in 2011.
John Septer often gave his belongings to Fort Wayne’s homeless men and women, the organization’s website states. After he died, Shelley Septer continued her son’s work and has since handed out hundreds of backpacks filled with health and beauty supplies to people in need across the country.
When Jim Matthews heard of BackPacks of Hope, he decided to bring the charity to Greenfield. The couple started buying supplies, collecting donations and spreading the word about the needs of vagrant Hancock County residents.
It costs the couple about $60 to pack one backpack. The bags can be filled with nearly anything. Body wash, deodorant, plastic bags, playing cards, hand warmers and flashlights are a few of the items they need.
Jim Matthews knows these items will not bring recipients the stability they need, but he believes it can help them find the right path.
“Will giving a person a backpack stop homelessness? No,” Jim Matthews said. “But if you can help someone meet those basic needs, maybe you can help improve their mental health. Maybe they’ll have the confidence to ask for a job or ask for the help they need.”
Greenfield BackPacks of Hope has partnered with other nonprofit organizations in the county to help bring attention to its efforts. The Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen hands out packs to those visiting the place for a meal; and World Renewal helps handle monetary donations.
Jill Ebbert, the soup kitchen’s executive director, said partnering with BackPacks of Hope was a no-brainer. Those visiting the soup kitchen for a free meal often are looking for the additional items the backpacks provide.
“Our place is where people always end up,” she said. “It all ties in. (These) people are hungry; and when they are looking for something to eat, they probably have other needs, as well.”
World Renewal’s president, the Rev. Gary Wright, said his group’s involvement with Backpacks of Hope helps to reaffirm its work with local churches as well as its missions across the world.
The groups have similar philosophies, Wright said.
“We didn’t start off as a global organization, we started off in local churches,” he said. “Any opportunity to help here in Hancock County is exciting to me.”
Anyone can help, Jim Matthews said. The organization is seeking donations of toiletry items and other basic supplies. These items, or filled backpacks if the donor prefers, can be dropped off at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen or Hometown Comics, both in Greenfield.
Monetary donations can be made on the Greenfield BackPacks of Hope Facebook page or mailed to 340 Old Glory Circle, Greenfield, IN 46140.
Backpacks in dark colors
Small blankets — need to be able to fit inside backpacks
Batteries for flashlight
Stocking cap and gloves
Sandwich, quart- and gallon-size plastic bags
Mini first aid kit
Refillable water bottles
Razors and shaving cream
Comb and hairbrushes
Shampoo and soap
Antifungal and antibiotic cream or foot powder
Pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers and pens
Children’s coloring books, crayons and small toys