As the cold winter weather drags on, Queen’s undergrad Celina Lovisotto, co-founder of the non-profit Bags of Promise, is busy helping young people struggling with homelessness in the Kingston community.
To address the challenges faced by young people who may be transitioning or living in precarious housing situations, Bags of Promise recently held a winter bag drive to provide support and raise awareness among locals about the youth homelessness.
“Thinking about the challenges homeless youth face on a daily basis, we identified the need for the community to come together and help in any way possible,” says Lovisotto. “Homelessness may look different for everyone, but many people overlook the everyday items that young people need not only to survive, but also to give them a sense of dignity.
Facilitate community involvement
The event called for donations to fill reusable backpacks with essential items, including hygiene products and non-perishable food items, to be distributed at a local youth shelter. Among the donations received were products from Kingston companies such as LUSH Cosmetics, Klean Kanteen, Roots Canada, Pure Balanxed, Finder’s Keepers, as well as donations from the local community and the Greater Toronto Area.
Like many grassroots efforts, “Bags of Promise’s bag drive involved using the Lovisotto lounge as a logistics hub to assemble the contents of the bags. The bags included items for gender-biased men, women, and youth. aged 13 to 24 with content adapted to their needs.
Bags of Promise has successfully distributed 30 bags to meet the needs of the local Kingston youth shelter and plans to distribute another 20 bags with additional items at a later date. With the pandemic impacting donation amounts for many charities, this initiative comes at a time when youth shelters are seeking the support and collaboration of community partners.
“The response from the community has been incredible. We are excited to raise awareness of such an important issue and gain ground for future initiatives,” Lovisotto said. “Watching BOP come to life as the team promotes tangible, positive change has been incredibly rewarding.”
Origins of a student-led initiative
Currently completing her second year of health studies at Queen’s, Lovisotto was influenced by Brooke Baker, her friend and now co-founder, who shared her personal experience with youth homelessness. Recognizing the role garbage bags play in carrying items for homeless people, the two students decided to start an organization based on the principle that providing reusable bags would instill a sense of pride in young people while offering a space to store personal effects.
The organization, which now has 11 students from Queen’s and one student from the Royal Military College, focuses on outreach, education and access to services for young people who are struggling to find housing in the community.
Noting the intersectionality of youth homelessness and gender identity, Bags of Promise plans to continue providing support by providing gender-neutral bags and items in the future. Beyond collecting winter bags, the team’s passion for alleviating youth homelessness will continue to focus on education and advocacy to address the stigma associated with homeless youth.
“By shining a spotlight on youth homelessness, we hope to inspire other students and community members in Kingston to show the compassion and understanding needed to help uplift youth,” says Lovisotto.
To donate or learn more, visit the Bags of Promise website.