Making A Difference in the Lives of Homeless Youth
Parveen Loodu

There are certain service initiatives that have become longstanding traditions at Southridge – Project Backpack is just one of those initiatives and this year it was bigger and better than ever! 

Project Backpack is a community-service campaign whose mission is to help hundreds of homeless youth in Vancouver. It offers a way for students and businesses to help those less fortunate by stuffing donated backpacks with essential living items to be distributed to homeless youth.

Project Backpack has been a significant service initiative in our Senior School over the last 11 years. It has provided students with the opportunity to gain insight into the challenges that vulnerable youth experience. It also allows them to take stock and appreciate the privileges they enjoy in life as they collect essential living items for the school’s backpack donations – items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, socks, and gloves. Collecting these items for at-risk youth who have limited access to everyday essentials is a tangible reminder that many young people in our communities regularly face the day without access to basic necessities.

“Being a part of the Project Backpack initiative is always a very humbling experience”, says Senior School student, Maya. “The little things I can take for granted daily are exactly what homeless youth need. Especially during these tough times when staying at home has been important, I can't imagine what it must be like not having a home to go to.”

For the second year, our Junior School students joined the initiative, allowing our full school to fill 100 backpacks with essential living items for Project Backpack!

“This was such a wonderful way for us to make our Junior School students more aware of youth homelessness and why it’s important to help out however we can” says Steve Anderson, Junior School VP of Student Life. “Everyone was so excited to participate this year that our bags were overflowing!”

“We’re always blown away by the support we receive from Southridge”, says Dale Bonsall, who coordinates Southridge’s participation with Project Backpack and works with H.E.L.P. for Youth Canada, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to give at-risk youth a chance at a better life through education and mentorship.

“The students and faculty go above and beyond to help with this important initiative. This year, we had bags and boxes overflowing with essential living items, and it’s so wonderful because the backpacks are so very appreciated by the homeless youth who receive them through the various community centres Project Backpack supports,” says Dale.

Dale explains that these faces of homeless and at-risk youth look very different than one might expect. Sometimes, they are individuals who are new to the city and find themselves homeless and in need of help. Others are local and because of situations beyond their control, or because of years of abuse or neglect, they find themselves out of their homes and fending for themselves. Others have aged-out of the foster care system and are on their own for the first time. Some youth are living with mental health challenges and become entrenched in homelessness due to a lack of resources, or access to the help they need.

Over the past decade, Southridge has contributed approximately 700 backpacks to this important initiative, and we look forward to continuing this tradition with all our Kindergarten to Grade 12 students in the years to come.

Contributed by Parveen Loodu, Communications and Marketing 
Adapted from Spirit Magazine - Summer 2021