Backpacks for Madison seeks used backpacks to help people who are homeless

May 7, 2014 By Sean Kirkby

Are you graduating, moving-out or spring-cleaning? Have a backpack that you don’t need? Consider donating it to Backpacks for Madison, a campaign that collects suitcases and bags for homeless individuals.


Backpacks for Madison is seeking used backpacks to aid the homeless.


From May 12-19, Backpacks for Madison will place donation bins for backpacks and bags, as well as duffel bags and drawstring bags, in Union South, Memorial Union, Natatorium, the Southeast Recreational Facility, the Shell, the Morgridge Center for Public Service in the Red Gym and the UW Bookstore.

The bags will be distributed through Briarpatch Runaway and Homeless Youth Services, Madison Transition Education Program and Bethel Luthern Church Homeless Ministry to individuals who need them in the community.

“The main focus is on helping people out,” Malissa Roberts, who started the program last year, says. “There’s graduation or you’re moving out so you don’t necessarily need your bags, but others could really benefit from them and they’re really appreciated.”

Roberts, a graduate student in UW–Madison’s occupational therapy program, created the campaign a year ago after witnessing homeless people carrying multiple plastic bags that held their personal products on the bus and down the street.

Backpacks and bags are often in high demand by organizations seeking to help homeless individuals and others who are in poverty. Roberts approached Mark Wilson, Bethel Lutheran Church Homeless Ministry volunteer director, about the problem.

He told her that bags “go like hotcakes” and that many agencies and organizations are in need of bags because they often wear out quickly due to constant use.

Given the heacy use of the bags, zippers often break and bags often develop holes. Durable backpacks and those that last for a long time are valuable commodities in the homeless community.

“The things that matter most to the homeless are shoes, socks, pants and backpacks,” Wilson says. “When you consider carrying most everything you own with you, most have a small duffel bag or backpack to keep their stuff. They not only have to keep clothes, but important papers and all kinds of things. Backpacks are extremely useful and extremely well utilized in the homeless community.”

Roberts is also working with the Student Occupational Therapy Association, which consists of graduate students in UW’s occupational therapy program, making the campaign a cross between both community and campus organizations.

The association will provide handouts with the backpacks detailing how to best carry them in a safe and healthy manner to prevent less back strain, such as distributing weight equally throughout the bag.

Last year, volunteers collected 40 backpacks, but Roberts has set the goal higher this year. 

For more information, contact To find out more, like Backpacks for Madison on Facebook or Twitter.

Tags: student life