ABINGTON — For 16-year-old Alexa Rhodes, a backpack is so much more than a bag for her books.
What started as a project in her Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership class at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has turned into an actual nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless.
Rhodes, of Abington, said her long term experience with community service, serving meals with her parents over the past 10 years, inspired her to do something more on her own. She launched her nonprofit, H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpacks. She added that “helping stands for: “healing, empowering, loving, providing, influencing, nourishing, and giving.”
“I just really wanted to help that part of the community because it really saddened me how many people were affected by homelessness, and I know how fortunate I am, so I just really wanted to give back to those people who I was giving food to one Sunday a month at those community dinners,” she said.
Rhodes estimated that there’s more than 190,000 people experiencing homelessness in major U.S. metropolitan areas and more than 150 million others globally, according to a press release.
Rhodes said she first came up with the idea when taking the required course last winter. She developed the idea over the past several months and even took the class a second time.
Rhodes joined forces with a number of area entities including Bombas, Alphabroder and local dentists to supply personal care, hygienic and reusable items needed to bring her vision to life.
The high school junior added she’d like to partner with a larger company such as Ikea in order to put “safe plastic utensils” in the backpacks.
After meeting with the organization and securing the necessary materials, Rhodes assembled the backpacks around mid-October.
As it stands, the backpacks are valued at around $40, according to a press release, and they include a water bottle, a baseball cap, utensils, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a waterproof blanket, a poncho, a pair of socks, a mask and a note.
She recently donated 75 packed backpacks, which were distributed to clients at the Broad Street Ministry, located at 315 S. Broad St. in Philadelphia.
“I really just want those that are homeless to know that there really are people who care for them, and there are people who are supporting them, and trying to help them, especially right now during COVID,” she said. “Everyone’s having a really tough time especially them and I just wanted to make sure they knew and no one forgot about them and there are still people working really hard to help them such as myself.”
For more information, visit Rhodes’ website at https://arhodes74.wixsite.com/website or follow along with the project on Instagram with the handle @helpingthehomelessbackpacks.
While Rhodes said she’s currently focusing on helping those in the greater Philadelphia region, she’d like to expand her reach much further down the line.
“So my goal right now I’m just staying in and around the Philadelphia area because there’s so many people to help there, but eventually I'd definitely want to help people in other cities, not just my own,” Rhodes said.
“I really don't have a specific number of bags that I want to give away,” she continued. “I just want to make sure that everyone who needs a bag has one, which is an extremely, extremely hard goal because there are over 150 million homeless people worldwide, but that’s a future goal of mine, and right now I’m just working on making sure that everyone in my community and my surrounding communities have the bags.”