BERLIN – Neely James wasn’t surprised when her first grader told her he wanted to do something for someone else this Christmas.
She was thrilled to know they were thinking along the same lines. With the help of her son, Reed, the owner of Mother’s Cantina launched a community-wide effort to fill backpacks with supplies for the homeless.
“We decided it was the right thing to do to help people,” James said.
On Dec. 21, James and a number of volunteers from throughout the community gathered at Urban Nectar in Berlin to put the hundreds of supplies that were collected during the past two weeks into backpacks for the area’s homeless. Items packed up ranged from blankets and toiletries to art supplies.
James said donations of items poured in after she advertised her effort at Mother’s Cantina and her friends at Urban Nectar did the same at the Berlin shop.
“We also used social media,” James said. “It turned into a grander event than I anticipated.”
Though her initial goal was to fill 30 backpacks with essentials to donate to Diakonia, there were enough supplies to fill dozens of bags. She said leftover items would be given to the shelter as well so that they could be distributed to those in need.
Claudia Nagle, executive director of Diakonia, said the supplies would be useful both to the 40 people in the shelter’s housing program as well as to the homeless who attend the community resource days held throughout the year. Nagle said she was thrilled to be contacted by James.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “There’s always a need and when we can work with the community to address that need we do.”
She said the Diakonia team was grateful for the community support the shelter received year after year in Worcester County. She said projects like James’ could make a big difference to those in need.
“If everybody does what they can we’re better able to address the needs of the community,” Nagle said.
She said the fact that the supplies were being distributed in backpacks would be helpful to those who were receiving them, as they might have to carry them a ways.
James said incorporating backpacks into the effort was her son’s idea, as he’d participated in a backpack drive at Ocean City Elementary School.
“I think they do a great job at Ocean City Elementary of making the kids aware that there are people in need,” she said. “They’re conscious enough even at that age to get involved.”
She says that while she’s not sure her family will organize a backpack drive each holiday season, they plan to continue the tradition of doing something for their community.
“If it’s not this exact thing, it’ll be something like it,” she said.