RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Amy Westphalen, 10, held a bag yesterday that will be used for items collected at Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church for Operation Backpack. The items will be distributed to the homeless.
Faithful gather gear for needy
Church youth groups and adults worked together to collect 2,000 cans of food, 1,500 bottles of shampoo and soap and 1,400 rolls of toilet paper for the disadvantaged in what is called Operation Backpack.
Members of 12 Episcopal and Lutheran churches came from all over Oahu to drop off their donations yesterday at Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church in Niu Valley.
The items will be shared with the homeless and those living in senior-citizen and low-income housing.
The program's original name, derived from the initial practice of stuffing the items into backpacks to give to those in need, stuck, but now those in need are given tote bags and allowed to "go shopping" and take what they need.
The idea for the drive started in 2004 when the Rev. Ruth Peterson, pastor of the Joy of Christ Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Peter Champion, an Episcopal priest, brainstormed ideas to help disadvantaged local people.
Peterson said so many groups were shipping items to Africa and Asia that they wondered, "How can we address the needs of people here?"
They nixed the idea of filling cardboard boxes that could fall apart, and opted to stuff backpacks. But the project has evolved, and the tote bag idea allows individuals to select what they need from the stacks of food and other items, including diapers, Depends, baby food, toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Peterson said it allows the recipients to "have their dignity to be able to choose what they want."
"It's less fun for us, but it's to the greater benefit of those receiving," Peterson said.
Peterson told how one homeless boy "saw the piles of toothbrushes and asked if he could have two, one for himself and one for his brother because he never had his own toothbrush."
The event also serves to bridge the Lutheran and Episcopal churches.
Ten-year-old volunteer Amy Westphalen, who belongs to the Joy of Christ Lutheran Church, piped up: "It's a good gathering." Amy counted towels and enjoyed seeing old friends.
Peggy Anderson, a member of Lutheran Church of Honolulu, which has four to five teens in its congregation, sees the project as one way to help youths work together.
"It brings the youths together and encourages community service," she said.
For Anderson it is also a way to "share the grace God has given us."
Even church nonmembers have asked to help.
Rodney "Mac" Macalino, who works for Calvary-by-the-Sea and the Angel Network, had a schoolteacher friend ask whether he could bring his wife and 16-year-old son to help.
"He wanted to give back and to show his son what people do for the homeless," he said.
The volunteers had enjoyed stuffing the backpacks, but now they simply collect and count the items, then distribute to three different organizations: the Pacific Health Ministry, which donates to senior citizens' housing units in Honolulu and to the homeless living on beaches in Waianae; the Angel Network, which shares food and facilities at Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church; and Onemalu, transitional housing in Kalaeloa.