CHAMPAIGN — If there is food in your kitchen, shampoo in your shower and warm coats in your closet, could you spare a bit of help for the folks in the community who lack these basic necessities?
Daily Bread Soup Kitchen volunteers are once again hoping to give away backpacks filled with some warm clothing and personal-care items for Christmas to the people they feed on a daily basis, and they need caring community members to assemble and donate the backpacks.
The need for these backpacks is great this year, says Gina Stocking, a Daily Bread volunteer board member.
"We gave out 800 last year, and we think, with the economy the way it is, we're going to need even more," she said.
The backpacks will go to both homeless people and those with homes but who are too poor to afford both rent and such basic necessities as food, too.
"They just don't have any extras for food," Stocking said.
In fact, Daily Bread, a local soup kitchen that serves lunch seven days a week and sends people with sack meals to take home so they have something to eat later, is serving a growing number of poor who have homes but can't afford to feed themselves, Stocking said.
About one-third of the soup kitchen's regulars are homeless, she said, but the rest are families and others struggling in the current economy.
"People will come and ask for sack lunches for their whole family and take it back home," she said.
Daily Bread buys some of its food through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, but several area restaurants also donate prepared food on a regular basis, Stocking said.
Backpacks for men, women and children can be new or gently used, but should be filled with new, unused items. Remember, Stocking advises gently, these will be the only gifts people receiving them are likely to receive.
Daily Bread asks that most donors focus on backpacks for adult men and women, because there are other organizations focusing on providing gifts for needy children.
What to put in the backpacks?
Personal items, such as deodorant, shampoo, toothbrushes, hand lotion, soap or shower gel and cough drops are much needed by the adults. Men can use shaving cream, too.
Women would also appreciate scented and hair care items and cosmetics.
Clothing, such as warm gloves, hats and scarves, plus sweatshirts, T-shirts and long underwear (sizes large, extra-large, 2-XL and 3-XL for men, and large or XL for women) are also nice additions.
Stocking said most people the soup kitchen serves prefer big sizes in clothing for layering.
Fleece blankets, decks of cards, candy, gum and other food items, hand warmers and books would also be nice to add, she said.
For children, good things to include would be personal-care items, sleepers, socks, hats, gloves, a blanket, toy and perhaps even a coat, Stocking said.
"They'll gladly accept any of it," she said. "They need everything."
Another suggestion is to stuff a diaper bag full of baby care items and clothes, she suggested.
Daily Bread requests each backpack be labeled with the gender it's intended for, and clothing size included inside.
If this sounds like an expensive gift to take on alone, Stocking says some clubs do backpacks as a service project.
Some families also decide they can live without their own gift exchange and take on a backpack project together, she said.
"We are mainly funded through donation," Stocking said. "All our volunteers are non-paid, so everything depends on donations. We do a big fundraiser in June, and through the generosity of this great community, that's how we survive."
Backpacks can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 10-19 at New Covenant Fellowship, 124 W. White St., C. Please use the back door and ring the doorbell.
Or drop them off at the home of volunteer board member Ellen Harms, 705 S. Elm Blvd., C. She can be reached at 356-2551.
Leave your name when you drop off your backpack, and tax forms for claiming the donation will be available, Stocking said.