By Nicole Hennessy
Like over 1 million others, Olmsted Falls resident Mel Leeb came across a short video made by a couple in Tacoma, Wash., this past January. The two had been supplying their local homeless population with backpacks full of supplies in an effort to make living on the streets a little easier.
Instead of just sharing the video and moving on with his day, Leeb thought, “That doesn’t sound that tough to do,” knowing he’d already decided to duplicate the effort in Cleveland.
He soon began scouring thrift stores and dollar stores for the backpacks themselves, and for clothing, personal care and food items to put inside of the backpacks. Each costs no more than $20 and goes directly to someone in need.
“I, like many of us, I think, was looking for a way to ‘give back’ somehow, but didn’t quite know the best way to do that,” he said, thankful to have found something that spoke to him and was within his means.
Rather than scouring the city’s streets, early on Leeb and his small team decided to work with a nonprofit organization called FrontLine Service, which focuses on providing the homeless with housing and mental health counseling.
Starting with just 10 backpacks, Leeb’s small team has since found companies and individuals interested in donating to his cause, completing 80 backpack kits within two months.
Hoping to affect as much positive change as possible, Leeb is now promoting an online fundraiser utilizing the crowd-funding website gofundme.com so he, his wife and a few friends and family members can continue their “Backpacks for the Homeless – Cleveland, OH” project.
This funding campaign is focused primarily on the ability to purchase a product he found called a backpack bed, which is exactly what it sounds like – a backpack that unzips to become a bed.
Four of these beds have already been delivered, and Leeb is preparing to buy 20 more.
Although it has warmed up a bit, Leeb said the main goal with the backpack beds is helping people stay dry, “because if you’re not dry, you’re not really warm.”
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) reported that 74 homeless people in the Cleveland area died in 2012. Those deaths resulted from suicides, murders and, most commonly, the general hardships of living without shelter. The organization also reported that this is the largest number of deaths in its 26 years of operation.
Backpacks for the Homeless – Cleveland, OH’s Facebook page, which has already received 1,229 likes, also provides information to those looking to participate in this type of effort and for those interested in hosting parties in order to raise supplies.
More information can be found at www.facebook.com/BackpacksForTheHomelessCleveland.