BAGS project packs hope for students


 Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle

Margie Henderson works on stacking and counting school supplies to pass out to the students at West Broad Elementary School. Henderson is a volunteer with the Be a Good Samaritan (BAGS) Project, which fills backpacks full of necessities for the children who cannot afford new school items.

Margie Henderson and Judy Spence work together to fill backpacks full of school supplies for the students in need at West Broad Elementary School. Each is a volunteer with the BAGS Project, which not only hands out backpacks full of school items to students, but also gives hygienic products to men at Faith Mission and women at Nancy’s Place.

The cost of school supplies can be stressful to any parent, but it can be even more taxing for those who cannot afford the extra expense.

“With the economy so bad right now, there are a lot of families in need,” said Jean Hill.

Hill is a member of the Be a Good Samaritan (BAGS) Project, which aids those in the community with donations of hygienic and survival items for the homeless, and educational supplies for students.

“This program is wonderful because it gets all the people together to do service, and they just love doing it,” said Pastor Tom Phillips of Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on West Broad Street.

The BAGS Project was established in 2004 when founder Briana Johnson was searching for ideas on how to help the area homeless when she came across the story of a girl who filled backpacks full of supplies to hand out to the less fortunate.

Johnson asked members of her Bible Study group, Rebecca’s Circle, for their support and together they handed out 95 backpacks full of hygienic materials, as well as blankets, hats and socks to one of the men’s shelters at Faith Mission that winter.

Then in 2006, Johnson came up with the idea of making backpacks full of school supplies to hand out on the first day of school for the students at West Broad Elementary School.

“We put in the essential materials such as glue sticks, erasers, pocket folders, paper, colored pencils, regular pencils, pens, markers and scissors,” Johnson said. “And they keep the backpacks too.”

She added all of those supplies could not be possible without the assistance from the church congregation and grant money from local organizations, such as Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

“In 2007, we received $6,000 just from the congregation’s offerings and this year we received a $1,600 grant from Thrivent,” said Johnson.

All they needed for the grant to be a “no strings attached” grant was for at least six members to take part on the day of packing the supplies.

“Of course we would come,” said Jo Trump, one of the seven Thrivent members to show up. “We like helping people, so we do what we can, when we can and that’s just fun to do.”

Phillips said even though he has not been there in person to see when the 240 children in grades K-5 get their backpacks full of school goodies, the teachers tell him “it’s like Christmas for them.”

To date, the members of the BAGS Project have filled 1,300 backpacks to give to the women seeking shelter at Nancy’s Place, the men’s shelter at Faith Mission and to the students at West Broad Elementary School.

“We would love to expand and we’re looking into the different grants, but we know giving is harder with the economy being tough,” Johnson said. “We would like to help more schools and God has always blessed the Project to help us reach our goals every time.”


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