Helping the Homeless – One Backpack at a Time

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Abington teenager donates backpacks full of essentials to help people experiencing homelessness

With 60 backpacks waiting in her mother’s van, Alexa Rhodes greets Roslyn Robinson, of RHD Woodstock Family Center, with an extended hand and smile hidden behind her face mask. Woodstock Family Center in North Philadelphia provides emergency shelter to homeless single parents and their children, and/or intact families. Rhodes traveled from her home in Abington, PA to distribute backpacks filled with more than 40 items, including socks, wipes, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, underwear, and hats to those who wanted one. Following the visit to Woodstock, Rhodes headed to RHD Fernwood with more deliveries. RHD Fernwood provides emergency housing to single men in Philadelphia and assistance to those experiencing homelessness.

Seventeen-year-old Rhodes says she was taught the importance of giving back at a young age. She’s been volunteering since she was six, joining her parents and siblings at community dinners to prepare and serve food packages to individuals who were battling food insecurity and homelessness.

Two years ago, Rhodes witnessed a scene that stirred something within her, eventually leading to her backpack initiative. Rhodes explained, “One night I was traveling over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and saw a number of individuals who were camped out under the bridge. I had to do something to help them.”

Rhodes continued, “I have been so fortunate to have a roof over my head, to have food on the table, and to have the necessary items to live comfortably. Those experiencing homelessness do not share that same privilege. I feel as if it is my duty to give back to those who are less fortunate than I am.”

When she is not volunteering, Rhodes attends Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), where she is in the midst of college preparation, complete with campus tours and exams. Her desire to help those experiencing homelessness became a formal pursuit through SCH’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL). In 2020, with assistance from the CEL program, Rhodes created her own organization called H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpacks to raise funds and gather needed items to be placed in sturdy, multi-use backpacks. The program’s rewards extended beyond the individuals Rhodes is helping; Rhodes also won first place in the International Global Youth Entrepreneurship Competition and was awarded a $5,000 scholarship to further her organization’s mission.

In addition to RHD Woodstock and RHD Fernwood, Rhodes has provided backpacks to Broad Street Ministry, The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, and Covenant House.

Describing the impact of the backpacks on Woodstock program participants, Robinson said, “We are appreciative that someone sought us out and cares enough to put action behind their words.”  After receiving a backpack from Rhodes, a Woodstock program participant reflected, “The backpack helps – because I have a toothbrush, soap, toothpaste, and things that I need.”

Rhodes hopes to donate a minimum of 1,000 backpacks before the end of the year. With close to 500 already donated, she is well on her way to meeting the goal!

Rhodes’s desire to help others is something she plans to pursue throughout her lifetime. After giving the last backpack out, she walked toward her van and said, “My main goal in life is to make a difference. Gandhi once said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ and I live by that virtue every day!”

Learn more about H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpacks here:

Follow Alexa on Instagram here:  @helpingthehomelessbackpacks