GREENFIELD — A volunteer-led organization dedicated to helping people in need is in search of new leaders.

Jim and Cathy Matthews, the husband-wife team that founded Greenfield’s BackPacks of Hope in 2014, have announced plans to step down from the organization, citing Jim Matthews’ progressing illness.

Jim, who uses a wheelchair because of a neuromuscular disorder, was diagnosed in January with multiple sclerosis as well and said he’s decided to turn over the reins to BackPacks of Hope, which provides bags of supplies to people in need.

The Matthewses hope by the end of the year to find at least one person who can step into their role as directors of the organization, which has delivered some 500 backpacks since its inception to people without a home of their own.

Ideally, two people will take up the mantle, Jim Matthews said, noting he and his wife spent a combined 10 hours a week working on projects for the organization.

If they can’t find someone to take over, the nonprofit will likely come to an end three years after its start in Hancock County, he said.

The couple started by contacting people privately to see if they’d be interested in taking over but said they haven’t yet found the right fit.

It will be a challenge to find someone else with a heart so set on helping the homeless, said Jennifer Frye, whose Leadership Hancock County team last year helped the organization develop an inventory system at their base of operations, World Renewal International in eastern Hancock County.

“They felt compelled to make that difference in their community,” Frye said. “Now they have to find someone else who has the time, desire and passion for those people.”

The couple created the Hancock County branch of the organization after hearing about BackPacks of Hope in Fort Wayne, created by Shelly Septer in memory of her son, Zachary, according to the BackPacks of Hope website.

The Matthewses have worked with charitable organizations throughout the county to provide backpacks filled with necessities to their clients. Their partner agencies include the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen and Mental Health Partners of Hancock County.

The backpacks go to people without permanent homes — whether they live in a hotel, a homeless shelter or sleep on a couch provided by a friend, it’s difficult for people without permanent housing to get and keep necessities like toothpaste or deodorant, Jim Matthews said.

The biggest giveaway of the year for BackPacks of Hope is the annual Feast of Plenty at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, where hundreds of people in need converge to enjoy a free Thanksgiving meal donated and prepared by volunteers.

Jim Matthews said the community has been generous with both monetary and product donations through the years, and he expects that to continue long after he and his wife have stepped down.

Debbie Grass, a teacher at Eastern Hancock High School who also helped with the inventory program, and one of her students plan to help coordinate the backpack giveaway during this year’s Feast of Plenty to take some of the pressure off Jim and Cathy Matthews while the organization remains in transition, she said.

“They’re awesome people,” Grass said. “Their hearts are huge.”

Step up

Backpacks of Hope Hancock County, which provides bags of toiletries and supplies to people without permanent homes, seeks new leadership.

The volunteer position entails working five to 10 hours a week organizing, packing and delivering backpacks.

Those interested are asked to call 317-410-1765.

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