Homeless youth advocate joins ASU for backpack drive

Biology sophomore Kristen Reynolds donates notebooks and other school supplies to Changemaker Central’s backpack drive Thursday on the Tempe campus. (Photo by Jessie Wardarski)

A two-week backpack donation drive benefiting homeless youth is coming to a close with rallies on both the Tempe and Downtown campuses Friday afternoon.

Zach Bonner, a 14-year-old homeless youth advocate, partnered with ASU’s Changemaker Central to provide Phoenix children with a “Zachpack,” which includes school supplies and a snack.

The Little Red Wagon drive has brought more than 6,000 backpacks to underprivileged children across the country.

Changemaker has been working to collect backpacks at all four ASU campuses for the local Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, a private nonprofit corporation that offers a haven to homeless youth in Maricopa County.

Changemaker has been accepting the backpack donations since Oct. 22 and will end the drive at noon Friday.

Bonner started the Little Red Wagon Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps homeless children throughout the country by way of his “Zachpack” donation drives.

Bonner was 7 years old when he started his foundation in 2005 after Hurricane Charley hit Florida in 2004.

President George W. Bush gave Bonner the Presidential Service Award in 2006.

Bonner first visited Phoenix’s Tumbleweed Center in 2010 while on his March Across America project, in which he walked nearly 2,500 miles from Tampa, Fla. to Los Angeles to raise awareness for homeless youth.

Bonner said he was so inspired by the vision and outreach program Tumbleweed offers homeless children that he used its development model for a new homeless center being built in Bonner’s hometown of Tampa.

“When we stopped in Phoenix, we were really impressed with Tumbleweed’s drop-in center,” Bonner said.

Friday’s campus backpack rallies will be Bonner’s first time at ASU.

“I am so excited to be working with ASU,” he said. “We really try to get young adults involved in helping their community.”

Bonner is also in town to promote a new movie, “Little Red Wagon,” based on his life of giving.

“Little Red Wagon” will have a special engagement showing at Harkins Superstition Springs movie theater Friday night.

The film is opening in 10 select cities.

Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development Executive Director Dick Geasland said the association with Bonner is a blessing.

“He is the most down-to-earth, sincere person you will ever meet,” Geasland said.  “This young man has really impressed us with his heart for homeless youth.”

Geasland said teaming up with ASU and Changemaker helps give his center a strong anchor in the community.

More than 1,000 children are homeless each night in Maricopa County, according to the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Changemaker student change agent Hayley Magerman, a marking junior, said students have been dropping off backpacks and supplies, but she is worried that more needs to be donated.

“We really now need people to drop off things like deodorant, socks, notebooks, pens and a healthy snack to put inside the backpacks for the kids,” Magerman said.

Changemaker has collected more than 80 backpacks at the Tempe campus and will tally the amount of packs collected at ASU’s three other campuses after the drive.

Memorial Union Assistant Director Michelle Lyons-Mayer is not only happy with the student donations, but also with the University’s strong connection with the Tumbleweed Center.

“ASU and Tumbleweed have worked closely together in the past and we have a very strong commitment to them,” Lyons-Mayer said.  “Kids need backpacks, but when they are homeless, backpacks become one of the only things they can call their own, so it just makes sense to help with this cause.”

The rallies will be held Friday at noon on the lawn in front of the Student Services Building on the Tempe campus and at 2 p.m. on the Downtown campus.

 

Reach the reporter at rvalcho@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @rvalcho