NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — While some people are celebrating Valentine’s Day with dinner and flowers, there are tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are more concerned with where to sleep or get a meal.
In the latest Oh My Goodness, CBS2’s Cindy Hsu met volunteers who are helping the homeless through the group Backpacks for the Street.
Jeffrey Newman and his husband, Jayson Conner, started the nonprofit in 2018. Conner was homeless years ago and knows what’s it like to feel invisible.
“You can just watch people on the street. They will not make eye contact. They’ll literally look away as they’re walking by,” he said. “I’ve seen people pull out their phone if people are panhandling and so they’re like, oh, I’m on the phone, and just walk away.”
So the couple came up with the idea to give backpacks to the homeless.
Newman says inside the backpacks are about 50 different items, including a first aid kit, a sewing kit, a flashlight and a pen. There’s also food and an extra bag to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
“These are really important to us because so many people who are homeless feel like they get left out of the holidays, just normal things that we take for granted,” Newman said.
The Valentine’s Day bags have candy, handwarmers and handwritten cards from students.
The group also gives out sleeping bags and coats. They hit the streets throughout the five boroughs every two weeks, and the hundreds of volunteers have given out more than 3,000 backpacks.
Carlos Garcia served in the Marines and became homeless when he moved to New York for a job offer that fell apart.
“Not everybody that you see on the street is going to harm you, is an addict or has issues,” Garcia said. “They’re just trying to survive, trying to keep looking for work.”
Just as important as the supplies given out are the conversations.
“We wanted to bring a compassion, a dignity and a humanity to this,” Newman said. “We’ll sit there and listen and get to know them and, you know, it’s about treating people like human beings.”
Newman says he knows this won’t solve the problem of homelessness, but it does give people hope.
Backpacks for the Streets is supported by donations and corporate sponsors. Visit backpacksforthestreet.org for more information, including how to donate and volunteer.
Our series Oh My Goodness highlights people doing good deeds in their community, either big or small. Do you know someone doing good or making a difference in your community? We want to know all about them!