Since 2008, Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner have extended compassion to the homeless community. They are the founders of Backpacks for the Streets, with the mission of helping the homeless by providing backpacks with food, clothing and toiletries.
For both Newman and Conner, taking the initiative to help the less fortunate came naturally.
“Jayson Conner, my husband and the other co-founder, and I were living in Brooklyn, and we wanted to do something to help the homeless around Thanksgiving, this was in 2008 or 2009,” said Newman. “We stopped into a church that had soup kitchen and food pantry. The pastor said she thought it was wonderful that we wanted to do this. But that Thanksgiving gets a lot of volunteers. What she needed were people for the other 364 days of the year. We were sold.”
As a part of the National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, from Nov. 11 to Nov. 19, Backpacks for the Streets took part from Nov. 12 to Nov. 15, with more than 100 volunteers to provide backpacks for the homeless.
The idea of giving backpacks came about because of how efficient it can be, they said.
“The backpacks came about because of the need to be able to store essentials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc., in something other than a plastic bag,” said Newman. “More often than not, those of us who aren’t homeless take these essential items for granted, whereas the recipient of the backpack is beyond thankful for receiving them. It gives them a sense of hope that someone cares enough to procure these things and give it to them.”
Backpack giving is just one element of a bigger picture. There were four additional events for the homeless under the organization of Together Helping Others, which is the parent nonprofit of Backpacks for the Streets.
The events included a contest for artists living in shelters. The winner was given art supplies, display sessions for their work and meetings with a life coach. Nov. 27, the Hotel Chantelle will host a fundraiser for the organization. In December, there will be a free haircut day and a Christmas single by award-winning artists Matt and Jeb.
“When the events aren’t happening, Jayson and I are going out, every day, on our own, with backpacks we put together and give them out to people,” said Newman. “This is more than just our passion. It’s now our lives. So, we don’t stop just because there isn’t a scheduled outing.”
Over the years of helping the homeless, Newman’s compassion has been enlarged.
“My compassion for people in need has been heightened to a level of infinite proportions,” said Newman. “I care very deeply for the people we help. I fundamentally do not understand why people live the way they do so on a daily basis I reach out to people. Honestly all it can take is a smile, a hello or a nod and it can make someone feel just a little bit better than before.”