Project Backpacks & Blankets for the Homeless

From time to time at Who Needs A Cape? we’d like to take a break from sharing food, drinks and household posts.  Occasionally we’ll direct the focus to those helping others, how we personally can help our communities and perhaps help our readers find ways to give back to society also.  

I’d like to personally introduce you to my friend Lenore Ranieri.  We’ve known each other since elementary school, so somewhere in the vicinity of 35+ years.  Lenore is a busy lady, she works full-time, is a wife and mom of 2 young children, but has found time to give back within the Metro Detroit area through “Project Backpacks & Blankets for the Homeless“.  I’ll let Lenore describe her project in her own words, explaining how this project began and how you can help too.  

In December 2011, a friend of mine, Tammy, kept expressing that she wanted to do something at Christmastime that would make a difference and help someone in need.
She located a homeless shelter, The Hope Warming Center in Pontiac, Michigan . They said they would be happy to accept donations of blankets and backpacks and even socks because homeless people go through many pairs of socks in the winter trying to keep their feet dry and avoid frost bite.

So we set out to put together 25 backpacks by Christmas that would contain blankets, socks, gloves, toothbrushes, toiletries, and underwear.
We called on all of our friends and family members to please help us out to donate what they could, and we hit every Christmas sale purchasing as many gloves, blankets and socks/underwear that we could find a great deal on.
We also hit every resale shop and purchased as many gently used backpacks that we could get our hands on.
Our excitement kept spreading to a few more friends and then a few more friends, and people were donating all the items requested.
Soon we decided that we should try to add some cookies and candy and fun stuff to the backpacks so that it would seem more Christmasy.
And we did.

We were very proud of all our efforts until 2 weeks before Christmas, when we found out that the center actually housed 50 homeless people every evening in the winter, and we had only collected 25 stuffed backpacks.
So we then scrambled a little more and came up with 50 stuffed back packs in the nick of time.
We met the Hope Warming Center director Elizabeth Kelly a few days before Christmas, and she gave us a tour of the humble shelter that her and her husband started together on their own.
She graciously accepted all of our donated backpacks in a small room and was excited to tell us how she was going to surprise every guest at the center on Christmas Eve with a “backpack present.”

It wasn’t until a few days after Christmas that I received this letter in mail that touch my heart in a way that I had never imagined…


A few months later Tammy unexpectedly moved out of state due to her husband’s change of jobs.
I knew that keeping the backpack project going every year would be a lot of work without my friend Tammy, but in my mind I always remember that 2011 letter from the shelter director, and every year my heart tells me that I have to do it again.

In the following years, I have posted the backpack event on Facebook, brought it up to my coworkers and friends, and have even posted a link on my neighborhood’s web page for volunteers and donations. And every year I get a few more friends, relatives and neighbors to help with my cause, and it has evolved a bit more.
I have been able to receive extra monetary donations, and we have been able to purchase $5 gift cards to McDonald’s to be placed in the backpack so that they can purchase food items and warm coffee.
I have also been able to purchase 50 pewter “pocket angels” to include in the backpacks, along with a note of inspiration so that the homeless people would have a small token to keep in their pocket as a reminder not to give up hope long after the contents of the backpack have been eaten, utilized and used up.


Every year, I make a personal donation of postage and envelopes to the center director (along with every volunteer/donator’s name and address), so that they will also be able to receive a thank you type letter from the shelter that will hopefully touch their heart in the amazing way that I was touched.
(The donator’s can also use the letter for tax purposes if the desire to do so).”

We hope that Lenore’s story will inspire others to help in whatever capacity possible not only during the holiday season but all year long.  Through our voice on social media we hope to share her story, we hope you will share her story and help others see the great need at so many locations such as The Hope Warming Center in Pontiac, Michigan.

 If you would like additional collection information or would like to help, feel free to email Lenore at:

Pumpkin Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze
Streusel Topped Pumpkin Bread


  1. I love this story!!!

    I don’t work anymore and I have been trying to figure out how and where to volunteer time. I am going to see if this is something I can do here locally.
    Thank you for this inspiration.

    • RaeAn, Thank you for your comment! Lenore is truly the inspiration, she spearheads this effort and makes this happen. Let us know what you find in your area. 🙂

      • Hi Lori!

        Would it be possible to do a write up on the volunteer group we have? We are working in Detroit at the moment helping homes that were damaged by the floods from August?

        We are All Hands Volunteers. It sounds like you have many people interested in ways to help and this would be great!


        Annelie Marcilese

  2. What an inspirational story! My husband always finds a excellent project such as this to get our youth groups involved in each year.

  3. I loved reading this. The letter brought tears to my eyes. It’s cool how something so simple brings so much happiness.

  4. I love stories of selfless people helping those in need. A great reminder and reality check of wants vs. needs. Our family just learned of a local restaurant that opened solely to fund their organization that feeds the homeless. We were so impressed by their story that we have signed up to volunteer with them soon.

  5. What a great story! It’s so important to remember those that need our help, especially around the holidays. Over the years I’ve worked with several charities that help the homeless so it really touches my heart when I see others helping as well. <3

  6. What a great way to give back!!

  7. This is a perfect example how one person can make so many lives better! We all need to find our “calling” or “niche” to make a difference in our world:))

    Thanks for sharing this!


  8. This is totally awesome! It helps me remember that I need to get some things done to help out those that need it! Thanks!

  9. What a wonderful cause to donate to! I used to live in Michigan and it is my second home. We try to do a few charitable donations every year so I will have to add this one to my list.

  10. that is a super cool project. SO neat that you shared about it. I love reading how others are helping people in need! We all have our own special way that we can help this world be a better place.

  11. Thanks for this post! It is so important to remember the reason for the season. What a worthy cause!!

  12. Great post, lori! We love giving back to the community!

  13. Lori, what an inspiring post! Such a great cause. 🙂

  14. This is such an awesome idea! Everyone has more than someone, so everyone can give to others. My husband has started taking extra lunches on his way downtown so he has somehing to give to the homeless he sees. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Such a touching project. Warm/dry blankets and socks are definitely something we take for granted.

  16. What a wonderful way to give back and help the people around you! Your friend is truly an amazing person!

  17. Such a beautiful, inspiring story. Thanks for sharing (and motivating me to be a better person!!!)

  18. This is such wonderful campaign and a true reminder of the good in people’s hearts.

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