LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan — While most people are celebrating the Fourth of July with outdoor barbecues, parades and picnics, there is one group in Manhattan remembering homeless veterans and trying to make this holiday special for them as well.
Homeless veteran Edward Martinez was so appreciative of the Backpacks for the Street van parked on the corner of Delancey and Chrystie streets on Sunday, on the edge of a park where many shelter residents and others spend much of their day.
“Thank you for taking the time to come out here on the Fourth of July,” Martinez, who served in the Navy from 2004 to 2012, told PIX11 News.
Volunteers were handing out Fourth of July goodies, including burgers, hot dogs and red, white and blue party favors to those having a tough time. They also handed out some essential items, such as hand sanitizers, shampoos, masks and snacks.
“It’s a holiday and we want everyone to celebrate, even if it’s just Gatorade and festive pinwheel sunglasses,” Varonica Napitupule, a volunteer, told PIX11 News. “Even if you’re homeless, we want you to celebrate as well.”
Backpacks for the Street, a volunteer outreach program for the homeless that’s been around for three years, has seen an explosion of need because of the pandemic.
Since the outbreak of COVID began back in March 2020, volunteers in this grassroots organization have handed out more than 20,500 backpacks of supplies compared to less than 6,000 totally in the two years before.
“These guys need someone to believe in them,” Jeffrey Newman, president and CEO of Backpacks for the Street, told PIX11 News. “Hey we see that you’re here, we want to see what we can do to help for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Both the volunteers and the homeless recipients enjoyed this Sunday give and take.
“Honestly, being able to interact with these homeless individuals that truly want to celebrate, it’s honestly very enjoyable for us to volunteer,” Vanessa Daneshvar, a volunteer, told PIX11 News. “It’s a great experience.”
And the recipients of their work agreed.
“I am out celebrating,” Andre Muckle, a homeless man, told PIX11 News. “They gave me Gatorade, all kinds of snacks. I appreciate them, that they love us.”
Also in the backpack is a card with a list of social services to help the homeless.
“Happy Fourth of July to you,” Dre Manteco, a loyal PIX11 viewer who’s presently homeless, told PIX11 News. “Thanks. This is the first time I see Magee Hickey and I am big fan of PIX11, I watch it every night, all a good time.”
If you would like to volunteer or donate to Backpacks for the Street, you can go to their website at bfts.org.