Pack-a-Back Community Project Helps Youngsters For The Upcoming School Year

Tom McCarter 
MDI Contributor

Every year, the Old Crusty Bastards Men’s Division partners with the Sacred Heart Community Service organization San Jose to participate in their Pack-a-Back program (www.packaback.org), filling backpacks with school supplies for children within a community where parents cannot afford to purchase them.

The Bay Area has some of the highest housing costs in the world, and families often find themselves coming up short just to pay for the basics of shelter, utilities, and food. We want children to be able to have all the tools they need to take the opportunity to learn. We also want the children to feel empowered showing up with new equipment and backpacks instead of hand-me-downs. Sacred Heart generally distributes 3,500 backpacks a year. Parents line up at 3 a.m. to ensure their child gets a backpack.

It all started for OCB in 2007 with a point team that decided they needed to have a community service project as part of their program. Bryan Chapman lead their effort, and eventually enrolled the Division to assist. The first year, we raised enough money to fill 50 backpacks. Each year, we increased the number of backpacks. The leaders decided to make Pack-a-Back an annual event. We have also assisted Sacred Heart in other ways, once with a clothing drive and once cleaning their entire facility. When we had a Family of Women branch in our community, we would partner with them in these efforts. Over the past three years, OCB has raised enough to support high school students with 600 backpacks, which are the most expensive.

It isn’t just about the backpacks. This is OCB putting the Mission of MDI into action: Mentoring men to live with excellence, and as mature masculine leaders, create successful families, careers, and communities. Every project creates an opportunity for men to step into a leadership position to manage a portion of the effort utilizing the tools we teach in our leadership courses, and that man gets mentored by the man who did the job before him. It’s also about family and community, as we invite our families, friends, and neighbors to participate and donate.

This year 2020, the event manager, Kyle Aberg, had a vision of having men who had recently joined OCB and hadn’t stepped into a leadership role to take on managing portions of the effort, and he was successful. In this way, we build a bench of leaders for our future. Some of these men fizzled out and quit as managers, but I’m sure the ones that stuck with it learned lessons that will serve them for years to come. The ones that quit also learned lessons, I am sure.

Because of the Covid restrictions, we couldn’t have more than 60 volunteers participating. This meant that we couldn’t rely on volunteers just showing up on the day to make it work. Managers needed to reach out to their communities to fill their teams. This year, we provided each manager with an experienced mentor as well as the man who had done the job before. The mentor was charged with ensuring the man was utilizing his leadership skills, clearing the CPRs, and actively engaged in reaching out to fill his team. The man who had done it before was the resource for how to do the job.

We have an agreement with a local office supply company that gives us a discount. We get other supplies donated to make the day work. We have the packing down to where we can fill 600 backpacks in a little over two hours. On the day, we held the packing in a parking lot of the business of one of our members so as to avoid the public. Families showed up and children as young as four were actively participating in distributing, packing, and quality control. Everyone was masked and safety was a top priority.

Everyone had a good time and left knowing they made a difference.

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