Students' holiday event gives hope in a backpack


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Susan Bohne, left, Tom Wienckoski, Charlotte Wienckoski and Amanda Stillwagon provide backpacks for homeless individuals at the Dec. 21 “Christmas in a Pack” event. Photo by George White

Nearly 400 homeless individuals gathered in Wells Park in Melbourne Dec. 21 for an outdoor holiday meal and to receive “Christmas in a Pack,” a 14-year community effort supported by students at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Suntree.

Jo Ellen Williams, director of Student Life, is in charge of character education at Holy Trinity. This year’s collection included 42 backpacks provided by students, she said. In total there were 400 backpacks and 170 sleeping bags given out.

“It’s good for the kids. We want to make sure they understand and get a sense of how they can help. You don’t have to make it a big deal. It’s just making someone’s life a little better,” Williams said.

With the school's main campus located near the park and both located close to U.S. 1, there are often homeless persons in the area, she said of the school's Melbourne campus that serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The Upper School in Suntree serves grades seven through 12.

“I’ve had kids over the years ask why there always seems to be people sitting at the park that don’t seem to know where to go,” she said of the park that borders the Melbourne Library on Fee Avenue, Melbourne Auditorium on Hibiscus Boulevard, and is near Daily Bread soup kitchen on Fee Avenue to the west.

The answer is to create and donate a backpack as a tangible expression of compassion and charity, she said. The backpacks are filled with personal items including a blanket and hats, she said.

“This way you know they are going to be warm. There are some healthy snacks in there. It’s going to take care of them for a little while. They will wear it out between now and next year,” Williams said.

Kids who come from strong backgrounds and families need to know not everyone has a home and luxuries, she said.

“You never know what can happen in your life, so you want to help others. It’s good for them to understand you can get put in that situation through no fault of your own. It doesn’t always happen that way but it does happen,” she said.

Charlotte and Tom Wienckoski of Satellite Beach started the program on Facebook and the response was overwhelming, she said.

In addition to Holy Trinity, additional help for this year’s event was given by Wuesthoff Health Systems and Urology Center of Brevard and other local businesses.

“It started out 14 years ago and this is the most we’ve ever had. To me they have always been forgotten souls. They are wonderful and they are so appreciative and grateful. We just want to give them a little hope and let them know somebody cares about them,” she said.

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