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North Vancouver high school charity fills backpacks for the homeless

Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be sold at locations on the North Shore and downtown on Friday and Saturday, with profits going to support people experiencing homelessness
A Handsworth student stuffs a backpack with personal hygiene items like deodorant, soap and toothbrushes. | Courtesy of August Gadsby Portal

Deodorant, soap, toothpaste – many of us take for granted the so-called necessities that help us lead dignified lives in society.

These are among the items found in backpacks filled by Stash Project, a non-profit run by students at Ecole Handsworth Secondary in North Vancouver.

This Friday and Saturday, student volunteers will gather at six locations across the North Shore and downtown Vancouver, selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts with all profits going toward helping people experiencing homelessness.

Much of the raised cash will go directly to making the stuffed backpacks, which are handed directly to unhoused individuals, some locally but primarily in the Downtown Eastside.

Grade 12 student August Gadsby Portal says handing out the backpacks has allowed him to learn stories of people on the receiving end.

“We talked a little bit and learned what they had to say, what they had to tell us about their situation, which I found very insightful,” he said. “It made us feel better because it gave us a bit of a connection. And they really appreciated it.”

Portal got involved in the initiative last year, when Stash Project – a registered charity – was launched by Handsworth seniors. This year, he’s taken more of a leadership role, alongside fellow students Parsa Douraghinejad and Kimiya Anjam.

The idea behind stuffing the backpacks with essential items like hygiene products, Portal said, is to give marginalized individuals things they might not otherwise prioritize, but can boost self esteem.

“They have other priorities, probably food and other stuff like that. So they’re not looking to purchase these things,” He said. By handing out essentials, “you can give them a bit more of a sense of dignity.”

Many other people walking by don’t even acknowledge people experiencing homelessness, Portal said.

“They kind of just pretend they’re not there,” he said. “So I feel like this gives them more of a connection to us as people and helps them not feel as invisible, like they’re appreciated as people and valued instead of just forgotten about.”

A homelessness count report released earlier this month showed a sharp spike in homelessness across the Lower Mainland over the past three years. On the North Shore, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose nearly 40 per cent.

This trend is “unacceptable,” Portal said, adding that there should be more support systems for mental health as well as additional financial supports.

“It’s not something that we tackle in a day or even a year. So I think if we make those gradual steps towards solving this together, as a city and not just a couple of people … I think that’s probably a good way to start.”

Volunteers will be set up at the following locations Friday and Saturday (Oct. 20 and 21) selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts for $15 a box:

  • Thrifty Foods in Edgemont Village
  • Safeway at Westview
  • Lonsdale Quay
  • Whole Foods at Park Royal
  • Vancouver Art Gallery
  • Waterfront Station