Homeless backpack effort takes off in county

Organizer put out plea for donations on Facebook

By Christie Bleck
The Mining Journal (Marquette)

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) — Relatively balmy November temperatures aside, it’s bound to get cold soon in Marquette.

For people who have homes, heating bills will rise, but they still have roofs over their heads. For the 500 or so homeless people in Marquette County, they’re not so lucky.

Fortunately for at least some of them, emergency kits for the homeless are being assembled at Thrivent Financial in Marquette, according to The Mining Journal.

Thrivent financial consultant Theresa Sell said with a $250 grant from the company, her office put together 10 kits — but just the insides and not the backpacks. She then posted on Facebook she was looking to increase that to 50 kits.

She said the overwhelming response gave her the impetus to keep the effort going.

“We’re going to do this indefinitely,” Sell said.

On her Nov. 3 birthday, she visited the Room at the Inn Warming Center and asked about its needs.

The answer? Backpacks.

“People have stuff,” Sell said. “They don’t have backpacks.”

She also was told the center can hold only 16 to 18 people a night.

“And so, what are these 400-some other people doing, right?” Sell asked. “And so then, we thought, OK, when they’re turned away, what’s happening?”

That was cause for concern for her.

“People are going to get turned away, so at least they’ll have this kind of stuff,” Sell said.

Items like hats and socks were assembled for each pack, which cost about $25 each without the backpacks, she said.

Then came the Facebook plea.

“We’re trying to do this,” Sell said. “Can you guys please give us donations? Here’s what we need. So, just that calling out on behalf of the 500 homeless people in Marquette County — please help.”

Sell said they have been receiving donations nonstop every day, with the goal set at 50 packs.

More than just warming items, though, are being put in the packs.

“We’re also putting food in them,” Sell said. “So, high-calorie protein bars. We try to get 400 calories, you know, 10 to 20 grams of protein, to try to keep them full and hopefully warm.”

The Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency donated 50 backpacks that will be filled with a plethora of items, Sell said.

School supplies that were donated are passed on to the Cat Packs program, Thrivent associate Walker Derby said.

Cat Packs started as a pilot in the spring in collaboration with the Northern Michigan University Volunteer Center, the Salvation Army and Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors.

Regarding the Thrivent backpacks, 19 were dropped off last week at the Room at the Inn, Sell said.

More should come.

“Every day we get new boxes, new bags full of things,” Derby said.

Sell said people can drop off items at the Thrivent office.

“Even if it’s hotel shampoos, soaps and things,” Sell said. “Whatever people have, we will take.”