GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Ahead of the winter months, several hundred homeless people in Grand Rapids filled up bags and backpacks with clothing and other essential items at a free distribution event Saturday afternoon.

The items were given out at Heartside Park for the Purple Backpack Project, a campaign focused on providing the Kent County homeless community with lifesaving resources.

“Knowing that this can legitimately mean the difference of life and death for some of these people, it’s huge,” said Wendy Botts, who helped organize the event in memory of her son Jordan.

Jordan, who volunteered regularly at a local homeless shelter, died of a fentanyl overdose in April of 2017.

Wendy Botts then teamed up with Stacy Peck and Tyler Trowbridge, a recovering addict, to create Dirt City Sanctuary. The nonprofit focuses on providing resources and care to homeless people suffering from substance abuse problems.

“I probably almost died,” Trowbridge said of his two homeless winters. “I’d black out in the bathroom from drugs and wake up in the emergency room. I had frostbite on both of my hands. It was bad.”

The group discussed what Tyler needed during those winters, which evolved into the backpack program. People received numbers and collected items at different stations containing clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags and food.

Dirty City Sanctuary has been collecting supplies since September, and they distributed over $23,000 of supplies.

Donations came from all over, and many donors requested to volunteer, Botts said.

“We have over 120 volunteers throughout the day,” she said. “Just seeing all the people…interacting with all the people that are homeless and showing them love and respect, that definitely signifies Jordan.”

The event included hot meals provided by Amore Trattoria Italiana and free haircuts from Salon Re stylists at Heartside Ministry.

Dirt City Sanctuary is hosting a second winter wear distribution day at Heartside Park on Dec. 22.

Items they are accepting as donations:

  • Water resistant purple hiking backpack
  • Mummy Sleeping Bag
  • Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
  • Thermal Blanket
  • Base Layers (generously provided by Corbeaux Clothing)
  • Rain Poncho
  • Wool socks
  • Hat and Gloves
  • Winter Jacket
  • Personal Hygiene Items
  • Thermos and Instant Coffee
  • First Aid Kit

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