‘Love in a Backpack’ returns for third year, raises collection goal

  • Patti Paddock, who works in customer service at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, with the donation bin for “Love in a Backpack.” STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/31/2022 4:04:02 PM
Modified: 3/31/2022 4:03:07 PM

GREENFIELD — Conway resident Mary McClintock says the group seeking donations for the “Love in a Backpack” project is getting even more ambitious as the drive enters its third year.

“I think we packed 50 backpacks last year,” recalled McClintock, community collaboration coordinator with Community Action Pioneer Valley. “We’re going for 85 this year.”

“Love in a Backpack,” which provides backpacks full of essential supplies for people as they leave jail, has been organized for years by St. John’s Episcopal Church of Ashfield. A few years ago, the church approached Community Action Pioneer Valley to help collect donations and organize the backpacks, which is continuing this year.

‘“Love in a Backpack’ was initially created particularly to support women coming out of the (Western Mass Regional) Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee and then from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office when the women’s unit was opened,” she said.

But recent success of the project has led to an interest in also collecting supplies for men leaving jail.

“Everybody who is spending time in the jail — it’s a big deal to come back out into the community, and they often don’t have the basic supplies right away,” said McClintock, who is also a member of the Franklin County Transition from Jail to Community Task Force, a program of Community Action.

The list of items requested includes: brushes, combs (or hair picks), shampoo and conditioner (full-size bottles), bars of soap, hand sanitizer, lotion (and sunscreen for summer), wipes, tissue packs, lip balm, small flashlights, face masks, mouthwash (non-alcohol), deodorant, tampons and pads (regular and liners), washcloths and small towels, soft dolls or small stuffed animals, hair bands/clips/pins, bandages and first aid kits, cotton swabs, safety pins, rain ponchos (that fold up small), emergency space blankets and toiletries for men.

Other items include books, blank journals, blank note cards with a stamped envelope, and nonperishable snacks.

McClintock said the backpacks aren’t just filled with practical items; they also offer a “vote of confidence” to the recipient.

“It says, ‘There are people in the community who care about you doing well,’” she explained. “I really think of it like that.”

Until the April 25 deadline, McClintock said the community is encouraged to contribute donations at Foster’s Supermarket, the Community Health Center of Franklin County, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Franklin County Justice Center, the John Zon Community Center or Common Ground Fitness Center, all in Greenfield. Gift cards and financial donations, meanwhile, can be mailed to St. John’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 253, Ashfield, MA 01330. “TJC Backpack Project” should be written on the check’s memo line.

Once all the items are gathered, they will be sorted and packed into the backpacks, she said. Financial donations help to cover the costs of items there aren’t enough of. Any extra items, meanwhile, are donated to be part of backpacks organized by other groups.

‘“Love in a Backpack’ has been enormously successful thanks to great volunteers and many generous neighbors,” Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said in a press release. “This year the need is greater than ever with price increases and supply chain issues. Access to very expensive health and hygiene items is tough for people re-entering the community. Support is needed more than ever.”

While she said there is always a need, McClintock echoed Donelan’s concern about the increasing cost of many items. She added that, beyond that, the last few years of the pandemic have added an additional strain.

“The last couple years with the pandemic have been tough for everybody,” she said. “I assume that’s last true for folks who’ve been in jail.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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