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Delivering Hope in a Backpack
Issue Time:2016-11-23

Delivering hope in a backpack
Everest Austin, left and Hannahlyn Clifford sit amidst the 30 backpacks they have prepared to deliver to the homeless on Nov.19. 


Two Okotoks youth are spreading hope to people on the streets this Christmas.
Everest Austin, 9, and Hannahlyn Clifford, 5, collect items such as mittens, toques, socks and blankets, snacks and gift cards, and fill backpacks to deliver to the homeless.
“It makes other people happier and they feel good, and I do too,” said Austin. “My favourite part is making other people feel good and maybe making a new friend.”
He delivers the backpacks with his mom, Miranda Sparrow, who borrows a truck to get everything to downtown Calgary. So far they have 30 backpacks ready to go on Saturday and hope to fill more for a second delivery day closer to Christmas.
Sparrow said it’s incredible to see the reaction of people as they make their way down Stephen Avenue, ending at the Drop-In Centre.
“One homeless man last year was really touched by Everest when he brought him the bag,” said Sparrow. “He started crying and said, ‘Are you an angel sent from heaven?’ and Everest said, ‘No, I’m Everest from Okotoks!’”
They work with Hannahlyn’s mom, Leanne Clifford, who collects the goods and fills the backpacks with her daughter before handing them over to Austin and Sparrow for delivery.
It was Leanne who initially brought the idea forward after helping another friend with a similar project. She thought it would be a great way to get the kids involved in charitable work.
“I usually start collecting things like toiletries all year,” said Leanne. “We start saving things up really early and then we can make all the backpacks.”
It took three hours to fill the 30 backpacks this year, she said. Each one has toiletries, new socks, mittens, toques, a sweater or blanket, hand and feet warmers, protein snacks like hummus or tuna and crackers, soap, and feminine hygiene products in the female bags. There are also gift cards for coffee or fast food restaurants in downtown Calgary, she said.
The items are all donated, either by Leanne or Sparrow, or the community. Sparrow said she had saved some money for the backpacks, but decided to try hitting up Facebook first.
After posting to a couple of Okotoks-based groups, she received an overwhelming response. All of the backpacks were donated by residents, and the $330 was put toward items to go inside instead. It costs about $40 per bag, she said.
Having the bags donated meant the number of packs could increase from last year’s 13 to 30. The team’s goal was for 20, which they easily surpassed with the help of the community, she said.
“Between our pockets and the money donated and then the backpacks from the community it just really came together,” said Sparrow. “I love Okotoks. I grew up here, and it’s such a great place with everyone helping each other out.”
Sparrow said she’s happy to have more backpacks to give out this year, including more for women than last year and a few for children.
“I have a feeling with the economy and employment situation there may be more need this year,” she said.
Anyone interested in donating a pre-filled backpack or providing bags, items, cash or gift cards can contact Leanne Clifford at 403-862-9829 or merlin3329@hotmail.com.

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