Alum Spearheads Backpacks for Homeless Project in Chicago

On Dec. 26, DeAngelo Gerald, a 2014 graduate of Western Illinois University’s social work program, will distribute backpacks to homeless individuals in Chicago. The packs and the items in them are the fruits of his labor in the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project. Currently, DeAngelo has a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook page to help publicize and support his project, which he started last year.

The day after Santa is officially done this year, Western Illinois University alumnus DeAngelo Gerald will spearhead his own gift-giving operation in a typically cold northern location.

On December 26, DeAngelo — a 2014 WIU social work graduate — will hand out backpacks (filled with hats, gloves, food, toiletry items, and other necessary items) to homeless individuals in Chicago. The items he will distribute are the fruits of his labor for his “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project. Currently, he has a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook page to help publicize his project, which he started last year.

This year, DeAngelo — who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Aurora University and serving as a social work intern at Metea Valley High School (Aurora, IL) — is receiving help for the project from a few suburban organizations, including Metea Valley High School, Vernon Hills Park District, and the Mundelein/Vernon Hills Rotary Club, too.

DeAngelo recently reached out to his undergraduate alma mater to let us know about the project, and I asked him a few questions about his “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” campaign/project and his service in the social work field.

Q. What have you been doing since you left Western?

DeAngelo: Upon graduating from WIU, I immediately began working in the social services field, primarily working with youth with such barriers as homelessness, disability, high school dropouts, etc. In addition to currently serving in my social work internship at Metea Valley High School, I also serve as the assistant football coach there.

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Items that have been donated or purchased for the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” project.

Q. Tell me about the “Backpacks for the Homeless” project was started.

DeAngelo: I began the campaign last year. I was able to collect 60 backpacks filled with such items as hats, gloves, jackets, food, water, toothbrushes, feminine products, etc.,  and after all of the backpacks were collected, I, with the help of my family, and friends, walked the streets of downtown Chicago and distributed the backpacks to those in need. We were able to give out all of the backpacks, as well as some gift cards to restaurants.

This year, with the organizations helping us, as well as family and friends, we have been able to collect more than 120 backpacks thus far! Just as we did last year, with the help of friends and family, the backpacks will be hand delivered December 26 to the homeless throughout the Chicagoland area.

Some of the donate items, pictured on the "Backpacks for the Homeless - Chicago" Facebook page December 7, 2016.

Some of the donated items in 2016 (pictured on the “Backpacks for the Homeless – Chicago” Facebook page December 7, 2016). The caption reads: “More donations from the Vernon Hills Park District! Thank you so much for all that you have done this far!!!”

Q. How can people help with the project?

DeAngelo: For individuals looking to donate goods to the cause, they can reach out to me via Facebook , by email, or by phone (call or text), and share with me the items they want to donate. Once I receive their information, I can coordinate a time and place to meet with them in order to pick up the donation.

For individuals looking to donate funds to the cause, go to www.Gofundme.com/Backpacks2016. I encourage anyone who donated funds to GoFund Me to like the “Backpacks for the Homeless” Facebook page, so they may see photos of all of the items that have been purchased with their donations.

For individuals looking to assist with the distribution of the backpacks, they too can contact me via Facebook, email, or by phone (call or text). Once I make contact with them, I provide them with detailed information regarding when and where to meet on the distribution day. Once it gets closer to the distribution day, I will touch base with them in order to confirm that they will be helping to distribute the backpacks.

This year, any backpacks unable to be distributed on December 26, will be donated to Pads of Lake County. I have reached out to them and they are fully aware of the project and look forward to any donations that I am able to provide to them.

To reach DeAngelo, call, text, email, or inbox at:

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