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Front Row - Grace Woody. Second Row - Kim Howard, Brooke Smith and Heather Schneider. Back Row - Sonja Woody, Britney Casto, Amy Summerfield, Anne Chopyak, Terri Smith and Amy Tenney.

Backpacks for the Homeless project returns to Upshur County

BUCKHANNON — The second annual “Presby Backpacks for the Homeless” project is underway at the First Presbyterian Church of Buckhannon. The relatively new endeavor to help individuals experiencing homelessness in Upshur County began last year with 25 backpacks and was so well received that organizers doubled the size of the project to 50 backpacks this year.

The church was awarded a New Life Congregational Innovation Grant from the Presbytery of WV in order to purchase the backpacks and supplies needed to make the project a reality.

The goal of the project, founded by church members Kim Howard and Amy Tenney, 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.

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, Feed My Sheep Food Outreach- Faith Tabernacle Church, and Free Meals Appalachia. The Upshur County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) and the Upshur County Day Report Center will also receive backpacks.

Twenty-five of the Backpacks were donated to Mountain CAP to give out during the annual Point in Time (PIT) count which is held nationwide on the third Wednesday in January each year to count the number of people experiencing homelessness in each community. The purpose of the PIT count is to create a  “snapshot census of homelessness” in individual communities from year to year, allowing communities to track their progress in housing unsheltered individuals and track increases and decreases in the amount of people experiencing homelessness from year to year and plan supportive services accordingly.

The backpacks were filled with a mylar emergency tent, emergency mylar sleeping bag, mylar emergency blanket, a fleece blanket, two pairs of socks, a toboggan, gloves, scarf, waterless shower wipes, lighters, mini flashlights with batteries, hot hands and hot feet. 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, chicken, salmon, pork,  and Spam; cans of potted meat and Vienna sausages; single-serve cups of peaches, and mixed fruit cups, green beans, corn, peanut butter cups, and Ravioli; beef jerky, Slim Jim’s, fruit snacks, peanuts, instant coffee, hot chocolate and water flavoring, etc. A smaller canvas cinch sack was attached to the full-sized backpack that contained food items that could be crushed such as Saltine and Ritz cracker sleeves, sandwich cracker variety packs, chips, Goldfish, Combos, Cheez-Its, cups of cereal, cookie assortment packs, protein bars, green bean crisps, and veggie crisps.

Several community members assisted with the project including Amy Summerfield, Britney Casto, Sonja Woody, Grace Woody, Gena Wagoner, Jessie DeMoss, Tommy Paugh, Heather Schneider, Anne Chopyak,  Brooke and Terri Smith, Lacey Labno, Tia Miller, and Jean Blake.

Community Care of WV generously donated Narcan nasal sprays, and the Upshur County Health Department supplied condoms and Fentanyl strips. Sam’s Pizza and Par Mar donated condiments, the Bi-Centennial Hotel donated soap, and Feed My Sheep Outreach donated protein bars, peanuts, and snack cakes.

Each organization that received the backpacks commented that the backpacks are very appreciated and needed in the community as they often serve clients experiencing homelessness.

The church and volunteers hope that one day the program will no longer be needed, but until then, they plan to continue the program annually.

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