Backpacks for Hope partners with service group, eyes fundraising options

GREENFIELD — A toothbrush. Socks. Bandages. Something to carry them in.

These common items might be taken for granted, but for people who are homeless or in temporary living situations, they’re valuable items to have handy. Backpacks of Hope, a Greenfield-based organization, works to provide sturdy bags filled with basic necessities for people in need. After two years of operation, the organization’s directors hope to expand their reach to all corners of Hancock County.

To date, the organization — which provides about 100 backpacks valued at $60 apiece to people in need each year — has focused efforts in Greenfield. In the next year, husband-wife directors Jim and Cathy Matthews want to establish relationships with churches or other groups in the Fortville area that could serve as distribution points for the organization, Jim Matthews said.

As part of the effort to expand, Backpacks of Hope enlisted the help of Leadership Hancock County, a tuition-supported leadership academy; its members have agreed to develop an inventory system and a marketing/fundraising strategy for Backpacks of Hope.

Organizers hope the group from Leadership Hancock County will be able to help develop a better way to keep track of how many satchels are donated to individuals every year, so volunteers can anticipate local need and better market their efforts to donors.

Backpacks of Hope operates as an offshoot program of World Renewal International, a Charlottesville-based organization that works on missions projects abroad.

World Renewal International builds wells, churches and other projects in 32 countries, but founder Gary Wright said he’s pleased to see important charity work done in Hancock County as well.

“We regard them as homeland missionaries,” Wright said. “It’s a great work that they do.”

The Matthewses keep stocked backpacks nearby in case they come across someone in need — even stowing some in their cars — but they also rely on several other entities in the county to help distribute the knapsacks.

Backpacks of Hope provides backpacks to a variety of entities, including the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, The Landing, Hancock County Mental Health Partners, area police departments and schools. They ask leaders to hand the sacks out whenever they see a need in the communities they serve.

Mental Health Partners has passed out 10 backpacks this year, said director Kim Hall. The recipients always express their gratitude for the supplies, she said.

Backpacks of Hope’s biggest distribution by far every year falls on Thanksgiving, during the Feast of Plenty event at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, a free Thanksgiving meal provided to thousands of people. This year, Jim Matthews took 150 bags to distribute during the day, and gave away all but 20 of them, he said.

Debbie Grass, an Eastern Hancock High School teacher, serves on the leadership team spearheading the project. She said she’s impressed with the work the Matthewses have done so far.

“They’re so passionate about what they’re doing,” she said.

How to help

Backpacks of Hope, a local organization that provides backpacks filled with toiletries, first-aid items and warm clothing to people who are homeless or in temporary living situations, hopes to expand its reach to all of Hancock County.

Church groups or service organizations, especially those in the Fortville area, that would be interested in partnering with Backpacks of Hope to collect or distribute supplies may contact director Jim Matthews at 317-410-1765.

What's in a backpack from Backpacks of Hope?

Backpacks of Hope provides supplies to adults and children who are homeless or in temporary living situations.

A typical backpack from the organization contains:

  • Tissues
  • Deodorant
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Floss
  • Combs
  • Shampoo
  • Lotion
  • Antibiotic cream/spray
  • Bandages
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Playing cards
  • Crossword or Sudoku books
  • Rain poncho
  • Pens, pencils and sharpeners
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Hat/gloves
  • Blanket
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Socks

The organization accepts donations of these items year round. For more information, contact director Jim Matthews at 317-410-1765.

Donation needs

Backpacks of Hope donation needs

Backpacks – all sizes

Reusable Water bottles

Blankets (approx. 50 X 60)

Rain Ponchos

Fingernail clippers

Hand sanitizer (travel size)


Cotton swabs (travel size)

Flashlights (small size)

Wet wipes (travel size)

Antibiotic ointment

Batteries for size of flashlights

Dental Floss

Thick Socks (adult & children)


Hand warmers

Playing cards

Crossword/Sudoku books

Wash cloths

Zip-Lock bags (all sizes)

Hand lotion (travel size)

Author photo
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or