How to build backpacks for the homeless – With a lot of help from our friends


Our amazing group of friends with 100 completed backpacks for the homeless!

Yesterday was assembly day. Twelve of us gathered at our dear friends home in Orange County to finally put the 100 backpacks for the homeless together. From start to finish, it took us just over two hours of our time, a bit of organization, a lot of laughter, and some wonderful willing spirits to complete the task.

I’m hoping that by doing a recap here that our format can be easily duplicated by anyone else wishing to do a similar project. So please bear with me as I explain the nuts and bolts from start to finish of how to organize this, fund it and complete the packs. 


Obviously there is a need out there. Our homeless communities are everywhere, large cities, small towns, rural and urban areas alike. Some gather in self-regulated groups, others prefer being alone and segregated from society. Whether you live in a large populated area or on the fringes, you will possibly need to do a little research to determine how many packs you think you could/would distribute in your area.

When my husband and I are not traveling, we spend our time between both the San Fernando Valley and our tiny cabin at Arrowbear Lake located in the San Bernardino mountains. The mountain area has a small population, but the valley is part of Los Angeles County with a large number of homeless.

I set my goal to build 100 backpacks, knowing that I wanted to help both communities.


Even though we are in Southern California, the weather can get harsh in the winter, especially at higher elevations. Having some protection from the elements was an important component for our packs, i.e. emergency blanket, rain poncho, warm beanie hat, insulated gloves and heavy socks.

We also wanted to include some healthy, nutritious, protein dense foods so the packs included a jar of peanut butter, crackers, tuna and chicken salad kits, apple sauce, fruit cup, chocolate pudding cup, granola bar and small pouch of cookies, water, plus two sets of napkin/plastic fork/spoon/knife.

Toiletry items consisted of a bar of soap, bodywash/shampoo, toothbrush, comb, and a razor. We also had a variety of miscellaneous small items that had been donated including small toothpaste, lotions, and powder.

There is a wonderful online video that we found that outlined how another couple had put together similar packs. We used that information as a starting point and reference. The budget they suggested was $20 per pack.

That meant we needed to come up with $2000.00 to fund 100 backpacks.

Once you determine how much you need to raise, just do the math and set that figure as your goal. You may need to give these matters some thought:

  1. Will you be doing this as a single individual, a family, a group of friends, with or through an organization, club or charity? The number of people actively participating may play a big part in how many packs you decide to make.
  2. Do you have a certain amount already set aside to use for charitable projects?
  3. How much are you willing to invest of your own money vs. fund-raising the cost of making the kits?
  4. Do you have a product to sell or service to use to help with your fundraising efforts?
  5. What is the time frame you are allowing to complete your project?

You can always start off easy, make up a small number of packs, help a few people and let it grow from there…

One avenue that is becoming more and more popular to raise funds is GoFundMe. I had never initiated a GoFundMe account before, but believe me it is simple to do. Here is a link to the project that we set up for an example.

We did frequent updates, showing what items we ordered/purchased with a copy of the receipt.

Please keep in mind that it can be challenging to get total strangers to donate to your cause unless you already have a known track record of completing projects and showing results. You will find that by far the majority of your donations will come from friends and family.

As of the writing of this post, we raised $1305 of the $2000 we had set as our goal. Tim and I kicked in some additional money, we got a few items donated, and cut out a few items we had originally hoped to include in the packs. Our final cost per backpack came out to be under $16 per pack.

Once your goals are set, tell everyone you know about the project. I posted on Facebook, twitter, emails, and of course this blog. After we had the numbers figured out, the next step was:


We broke our items up into several categories; survival/comfort/clothing, food, toiletries and of course the backpack itself. Quite a few of the small items as well as food items could be found at our local 99 Cent store, Dollar Tree or Big Lots.

We also ordered items online from eBay or Amazon. We often found a price break ordering in a lot of 96 which helped keep the per item cost down.

The largest expense was for the individual backpacks. Ours were ordered from in Florida for $3.45 each at the bulk rate.

For a detailed breakdown of how many of each item, what we ordered and where we ordered it, please see the link below…

Breakdown of expenses and where to find items for the backpacks


This was the fun part. Fortunately for us, we have some amazing friends who volunteered to help us. Our dear friends, Michael and Laura volunteered the use of their beautiful home in Orange County for a gathering place.

Many of our friends are on Facebook so I sent out an event invitation to those people who had indicated that they wanted to be a part of the assembly line. Once the event is created, Facebook will send a reminder making the entire process smooth. Our friends could also easily send us an RSVP online to let us know if they would be able to join us.

Truck full of items to donate to the homeless

Truck full of items to donate to the homeless

Tim and I drove to the OC the evening before with a truck loaded down with supplies. The next morning the guys unloaded the truck while Laura and I set up several work stations to facilitate a smooth flow of putting the  kits together.

Here is a short video showing the assembly stations in action.

Station #1 – Backpacks, emergency blanket, rain poncho, peanut butter, water bottle. 

The blanket and rain poncho were put in the zippered pouch on the front of the backpack and the heavier peanut butter and water bottle put in the bottom of the backpack.

**We designated 60 mens and 40 women packs divided up by color.

Station #2 – Toiletries

A one gallon ziplock bag was used to keep toiletries together. This included the soap, bodywash/shampoo, toothbrush, comb, razor and a couple misc. items from donated pile.

Station #3 – Food

Another one gallon ziplock bag was used to hold a tuna salad kit, chicken salad kit, pudding, apple sauce, fruit cup, granola bar, cookies and sleeve of crackers. We placed the crackers and cookies on the top to prevent them from being crushed.

Station #4 – Clothing

This was really the only main difference between the packs. They all received a beanie hat plus a pair of insulated gloves, plus either a men’s or women’s pair of warm socks. Also the women’s pack included a small supply of ladies sanitary pads. These items were also packaged into gallon ziplock bags.

Station #5 – Silverware

In a quart bag, two plastic spoons, two forks and two knives were wrapped inside two napkins. This packet was sealed and then placed inside the food gallon size bags created at station #3.

After each station completed their 100 packs, we set up an assembly line with a backpack that already had the blanket/poncho/peanut butter/water in it, then added one baggie from the toiletry station, food station and clothing station.

One other piece we put together were baggies of dog food to have in the car with us. Quite a few homeless people have a furry companion and we wanted to have a small packet of food to hand out for them as well.

The bags were then zipped closed, and arranged to be loaded into large boxes and placed back on the truck for delivery.

The entire construction project took under two and a half hours from start to finish.

And the final step includes getting these to the homeless.

After the truck was loaded up with the backpacks, we met our friend Eddie who was the initial inspiration to do this project. Eddie is a retired CHP officer. He along with a few friends have been taking food (donated from our mountain restaurant, Deep Creek Inn), warm clothing (gathered by his church) and some other needed items to the homeless in the mountains and in the canyons and ravines surrounding the area.



We loaded 42 of the backpacks, a half dozen packets of dog food, a sleeping pad and a large comforter into the back of his vehicle for him to take to distribute in the mountain communities.

Tim and I will be handing out some of the packs in the San Fernando Valley. Other outlet possibilities would include sending more packs up to the mountains and/or giving some of the packs to our friend Ray, who runs Frontline Foundation. Ray has now fed over 1,000,000 (one million) meals to the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

Other links:

Well, I’ve committed to making 100 kits for the homeless

Update on homeless kits and working on some future travel plans

COMING NEXT: An update on our travel plans for 2016!

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am most grateful for the love, generosity, willingness to help and kindness of our friends. This has truly been a labor of love for us. It moved from an idea to completion due to the efforts of many. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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18 Responses to How to build backpacks for the homeless – With a lot of help from our friends

  1. Good for you! How wonderful to be able to help others and have a laugh with friends at the same time. I hope you’ll inspire others to do the same. 😁


  2. Debbie H says:

    A fantastic project, well done to you all.


  3. John Love says:

    I am so glad you were able to do this and that I could donate a small amount to help out. You are the people that make the world a little bit better by being in it. I really enjoyed the video and pictures. Looks like your friends are wonderful also! Of course they would be!


  4. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the nuts and bolts of how to do a project like this. It really isn’t very hard, is it? And it makes an impact. Here in Minnesota, the homeless have quite a rough time over the winter when there are a limited number of beds open each night. You’ve got me thinking…..


  5. Reblogged this on Living the dream and commented:


  6. What a great idea! Much better than just handing out a few dollars.


  7. This is so inspiring. What a great way to show love to our homeless communities! Thank you for sharing.


  8. Kah Choon says:

    Thank you for sharing this amazing project, it’s really inspiring.


  9. Pingback: Project Linus ~ A Gift to be Treasured | A Note From Abroad

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