Difference Makers: Organization works to provide backpacks of supplies to homeless

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Two men are making it their business to ensure people on the streets have a little better life – one backpack at a time.

When Jeffrey Newman fell in love with his husband, Jayson Conner, he had no idea that at the time, Conner was homeless.

“Back then, I never really thought so much of him being homeless. He was just a 27-year-old kid who liked to sleep on people’s couches,” Newman said. “But after that, he was sleeping in the park and anywhere else he had to.”

Getting to know Conner, he says he discovered how easy it might be for someone to fall into homelessness and realized the support that is needed to those who are without homes.

“What he needed most of all – and what I think we can give to people out here – is for somebody to say, ‘Ok look, let’s figure out A, why are you still out here and B, what you’re good at,’” Newman said.

Now, 17 years later, the two have created a program that helps those who are living on the streets, called Backpacks for the Street.

The organization works to give backpacks full of supplies to people who are homeless, so that they can carry everything they need to survive.

“I used to carry all my stuff in those Duane Reads bags, and the handles would always break, and I’d lose all my stuff,” said Conner. “And that’s kind of where the seeds were planted for the backpacks, way back then.”

Newman notes that the backpacks contain $30 worth of items to help those who need them, and the organization is run by an army of volunteers, like Josephine Foong.

“It’s a really cool initiative. You get to interact with people you usually don’t. A lot of New Yorkers just kind of walk by,” she said.

The organization has given out 2,300 backpacks in the last three years, and most of them were distributed during the coronavirus pandemic and paid for by donations.

“You’re just doing good work. Seeing the smiles on their faces, it means a lot,” Foong said of the volunteer work.

And the work is not unappreciated. Homeless New Yorkers Richard and Shamane say the backpacks mean the world.

“Every time they come, whoever comes, they bring food and clothing at times, you know, it’s a blessing,” Shamane said.

To donate to Backpack for the Street, or to volunteer, visit backpacksforthestreet.org.