BUCKHANNON — A new initiative to help individuals experiencing homelessness in Upshur County is underway at the First Presbyterian Church of Buckhannon called “Presby Backpacks for the Homeless.”
The church was awarded a New Life Congregational Covenant Grant from the Presbytery of WV in order to purchase the backpacks and supplies, and the First Presbyterian Church of Buckhannon donated the remaining funds needed to make the project a reality.
Church members Kim Howard and Amy Tenney spearheaded the program and plan to make this first endeavor an annual event. The goal of the project was to pack the waterproof backpacks with enough emergency and cold weather gear and non-perishable food and drinks as possible in order to help the most vulnerable members of the Upshur County community survive through the harshest weather of the year.
Several community members assisted with the project including Gena Wagoner, Amy Summerfield, Jessie DeMoss, and Tommy Paugh. Community Care of WV generously donated Narcan kits that included two Narcan nasal sprays and a drug disposal kit that were included in each bag.
The backpacks were distributed to multiple social, community, and religious organizations that are currently helping those in need in Upshur County such as Mountain Cap, Parish House, Salvation Army, Upshur County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR), Faith Tabernacle Church Food Outreach, and Free Meals Appalachia.
The backpacks were filled with a Mylar emergency tent, multiple Mylar emergency blankets, a fleece blanket, two pairs of socks, a toboggan, gloves, waterless shower wipes, lighters, batteries, plastic utensils, and Hot Hands. It also included a reusable water bottle, a Narcan kit, a hygiene kit, a first aid kit, small notebooks, pens, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, and lip balm, as well as a laminated list of the multiple free meal and food distribution sites in the area, crisis hotline numbers, and housing and other resource phone numbers.
In addition to the emergency supplies, the backpacks were full of single-serve, ready-to-eat, light-weight food items such as pouches of Tuna and Chicken Creation, salmon, and Spam; cans of potted meat and Vienna sausages; single-serve cups of peaches, and mixed fruit cups, Jif peanut butter, and Ravioli; beef jerky, Slim Jim’s, fruit snacks, instant coffee, and water flavoring, etc.
A smaller canvas cinch sack was attached to the large backpack that contained food items that could be crushed such as Saltine and Ritz boxed sleeves, Lance’s cracker variety assortment, Frito-Lay chips, Goldfish, Combos, Cheez-Its, Cups of Cereal, Chips-Ahoy cookie assortment packs, NutriGrain Bars, Harvest Crisp Green Bean Crisps, Off the ‘Eaten Path Veggie Crisps, and nutrient-rich Super Donuts.
Each organization that received the backpacks commented that the backpacks will be put to good use as they often serve clients experiencing homelessness.
The first endeavor of “Presby Backpacks for the Homeless” Program is set to become an annual event. The group hopes to expand the project in the coming years by holding supply drives and continuing to apply for grant funding and relying on the church for support.