Holiday Backpacks

Amber Hughes and Tiffani Pimley are in their third year of filling backpacks with warm clothes, hygiene products and gift cards for homeless or unaccompanied youth in Bozeman schools. This year Hughes, Pimley an their other partner, Christi McDermott, are hoping to put together 40 backpacks and collect six laptops.

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For the third year in a row, a group is fundraising to fill backpacks with hygiene products, winter essentials and gift cards for homeless students this holiday season.

The 40 backpacks will be handed out to Bozeman High and Gallatin High teens before winter break in early December.

Amber Hughes and Tiffani Pimley, both therapists in the area, started the fundraiser three years ago, along with Christi McDermott, an accountant with McDermott Financial Services.

Hughes and Pimley said a lot of people aren’t aware of how widespread the issue of homelessness is in town.

“It has not been talked about,” Hughes said. “It’s a hard thing for this community to address.”

She said teens can be especially overlooked within the population of people who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

Pimley said teenagers who face housing challenges are also treated as adults but they’re at a crossroads and are still learning how to be independent.

“They get adult expectations put on them,” Hughes said.

The last two fundraisers there was a centralized drop-off place for donations but due to COVID-19 the group is offering porch pick-ups.

Although the pandemic has not directly impacted the fundraiser, Hughes and Pimley said it has made the logistics a bit more complicated.

With high school students in school half of the week and remote learning the remainder, the group has adjusted to ensure they have donations in earlier.

Collections for the fundraiser are through Dec. 6, with the district’s Family-School Services Coordinator Anna Edwards handing out backpacks between the two high schools the week of Dec. 14.

Although the group tried stockings last year, they ultimately decided to return to backpacks because they are easy to fill, discreet and could be carried anywhere.

The group is collecting men’s and women’s new winter hats, gloves, socks, hand warmers, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, razors, laundry detergent, dish soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products. Donations should be new products.

In addition to hygiene items, the fundraiser is also collecting gift cards to grocery stores, gas stations, the mall, the bowling alley, the climbing gym or other popular indoor hangout spots.

Hughes and Pimley said the teenagers just want to be normal, to go shopping and do something fun. They’re hoping the gift cards will help the students feel the extra love this season.

This year, the fundraiser is also seeking donations of six new laptops or enough money to purchase a new laptop for each junior and senior student experiencing homelessness.

Whether it’s remote learning this year or applying for jobs or submitting college applications in the next few years, the juniors and seniors will need computers, Hughes said.

“We’re hoping the community can help us with that,” she said.

People looking to donate financially can mail checks to Anna Edwards and the Homeless Youth Fund at Bozeman High School. Those with physical donations can contact Pimley and Hughes through their Facebook event, Holiday Backpacks, to coordinate a porch pick-up.

Pimley and Hughes, who attended graduate school in Billings together, said their long-term goal is to open a nonprofit focused on helping youth and young adults who have aged out of a lot of the youth services or have experienced homelessness.

They plan to continue their holiday backpack drive, hoping to continue serving the high school students who might need additional support, Pimley said.

“We really want the community to come together,” Hughes said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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