Students donate old, used backpacks

Art installation will advocate for homeless teens

Community Action collected 39 of the 250 backpacks needed for the Beacon project. “It’s pretty impressive… considering our small student body,” junior Olivia Carry said.

Imagine that 250 backpacks line the street, each representing a Minnesotan youth without a home. Some of the luckier homeless teens are able to stay at a shelter, such as one of the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative shelters, which has been working with St. Paul Academy and Summit School’s Community Action and Service student group to raise awareness about this issue by collecting these backpacks.

The task was harder than anticipated, as many students didn’t turn in backpacks. One popular reason for not turning them in was that people tend to use the same backpack year after year, “I’ve had the same backpack since kindergarten,” sophomore Maren Findlay said. “No extras.”

Other students had negative opinions about the idea, believing that money would be more useful to these homeless people than awareness.

This negativity was compounded by Community Action asking for backpacks in any condition, meaning many of the backpacks collected won’t be donated after being lined up unless they are in good condition.

This made it impossible for Community Action to collect all the 250 backpacks, receiving 39. The Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative also reached out to other sources for donations, going to local private schools including Highland Catholic School and Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School.

The Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative is determined to accomplish the task. “We are collecting backpacks to raise awareness… if we can raise awareness, we can get support,” Jenny Mason, a congregational partnership organizer at Beacon, said.

Sophomore Vanessa Miller, who donated four backpacks to the cause, agrees that homelessness is an important issue to work on: “I feel like it’s something that people need to know about,” Miller said.

If all goes according to plan, the 250 backpacks will be lined up on Summit Avenue in St. Paul sometime this October. Beacon is now also looking into creating some guerrilla art installations by putting backpacks at famous Minnesota landmarks for just an hour or so at each location.

Guerrilla art is a means for an artist to convey a message using something often more complex than traditional graffiti, such as sculptures, projections, and now maybe backpacks.

Their plans are ambitious, but even if the organization is only able to collect 50 backpacks, Mason is sure that Beacon will “still find a way to make it carry an impact.”

“I wish that people at SPA had gotten more involved,” junior Olivia Carry, member of Community Action said, “but I think it’s pretty impressive that we got a whole 39 backpacks considering our small student body.”