LAKEWOOD RANCH — Last month, Lakewood Ranch High seniors Alura Soles and Maddison Runge sat in the cafeteria with 300 of their fellow classmates and listened as a teenage boy shared his story of homelessness.
The boy was a part of the Bill Galvano One Stop Center’s Street Outreach Program and the first one to actually graduate high school. The two Ranch students, who are involved in Family Career Community Leaders of America, were moved by the story and felt compelled to do something.
With the help of freshman classmate Shannon Smith and Lakewood Leaders, Soles and Runge launched its Give Back Backpacks program at the beginning of November. The students began collecting personal hygiene items, socks, blankets and food, among other items to fill the backpacks.
“We tried to fill them with some of the things they would usually need in a backpack to carry around,” Soles said.
On Dec. 14, the students loaded 40 backpacks into early childhood education instructor Elaine Bowling’s car and delivered them to the One Stop Center, located at 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton.
“It was crazy, but it was cool to see,” Smith said. “It’s such a nice place, and it (helps) them not to have to worry. It makes you feel happy with what you have, and it feels good knowing you’re helping someone and making and difference.”
“It gives you a kid’s perspective on what it’s like to go there,” Soles said. “It makes me feel very thankful for what I have and to actually be able to participate in the community and make it a better place.”
The girls will continue collecting backpacks for the Give Back Backpacks project until the end of the school year, and they plan to visit the One Stop Center again once they’ve filled 20 more backpacks.
“I like being able to give them something that no one else can take away,” Runge said. “They don’t have many belongings of their own, and it makes me appreciate the things I have a lot more.”
The Bill Galvano One Stop Center’s Street Outreach Program is designed to give homeless youths ages 16-25 supportive services and skills to help meet their day-to-day needs.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].