A group of post-secondary students from Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) have joined forces to help combat youth homelessness in Kingston. Founded in 2021 by Brooke Baker of RMC and Queen’s student Celina Lovisotto, Bags of Promise (BOP) aims to help local youth who are experiencing homelessness, by providing them with better access to basic necessities.
“Our goal is to alleviate youth homelessness in the Kingston area and beyond,” Baker told Kingstonist in an interview.
To achieve this goal, Baker said the organization has three guiding pillars: service, education, and advocacy. “Our service pillar is primarily packing backpacks full of essential items and delivering them to youth shelters across the city. We also have our education pillar, [which] works to educate the general population on issues surrounding youth homelessness and destigmatization. [Lastly], we have our advocacy pillar, which works to fight for political change on the municipal and provincial levels,” she said.
In terms of specific advocacy work the group has done, Baker said the organization has written letters to multiple levels of government, among other initiatives. BOP has also launched a mentorship program. “[We’re] working to pair students in the post-secondary [institutions], which people of [a] similar age, who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness,” the co-founder said.
Baker noted the mentorship program is an important element of the group’s advocacy pillar. “If it’s an issue that a lot of people are detached from, how can you possibly advocate to higher levels [of government]?”
While BOP has grown considerably over the past two years, the organization’s main service initiative remains its annual bag drive, which enters its third year in 2023, this time in support of Kingston Interval House. “[This year], we’re looking for donations [of] 30 backpacks… for women, [youth], and children who are experiencing homelessness… We’re taking anything from unused hygiene items to snacks, deodorant, and shampoo… anything that would be considered an essential item,” Baker stated.
Members of the public who would like to donate are encouraged to email BOP at [email protected]. Specific items the organization is looking for include full-sized toiletries, such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, hand soap, deodorant, shaving cream, toothbrushes and paste for women and children, baby shampoo, soap, lotion, loofas, razors, hair brushes, combs, and hair elastics. BOP is also in search of gift cards to businesses such as dollar stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and local restaurants, which will be included in the backpacks. This year’s bag drive is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Having built the organization from the ground up over the past two years, Baker said the experience has been “rewarding”, as BOP has worked to make a difference in the community. “It’s been rewarding from a personal aspect and seeing a whole bunch of people believe in what we’re doing and want to help. That is the most validating experience ever,” she shared.
BOP is an organization run entirely by student volunteers, many of whom have school, jobs, and other commitments, but find time in their busy schedule to help with a cause that impacts many in the community. “It’s more important than ever for students to get involved as young people, we’re the future… We need to create a better future, not only for ourselves but for the people that come after us,” Baker remarked.
“One of the issues that we want to focus on is, we want to live in a world without homelessness, so we’re putting everything we can into that action.”