Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner, co-founders and co-executive directors of the nonprofit Together Helping Others, have been aiding the homeless for the past decade.
Volunteering at soup kitchens in Brooklyn twice a week, they knew they wanted to do more.
So they started BFTS. To date, the nonprofit has distributed over 2,600 backpacks, 16,000 feminine hygiene products, 10,000 Mylar blankets and over 1,400 meals across the city.
Each backpack also includes items such as granola bars, gatorade, chapstick, sunscreen, and moisturizer.
The backpacks also contain pamphlets on soup kitchens, food pantries, information on services for the homeless, and safe-sex practices.
If a homeless person has a dog with them, the organization also hands out “BarkPacks,” which contain food and treats.
Last week, they handed out 120 backpacks, including 35 in Forest Hills, 35 in Rego Park, 20 in Briarwood and 30 in Jamaica, which they prepared at the gastropub Austin Public.
The nonprofit has plans to roll out pop-up fulfillment centers in the fall, which will allow people to get their backpacks refilled with food and supplies.
“What was amazing was being able to serve the community out here, where we live,” Newman said. “To be able to host our first free breakfast for the homeless, and give out more than 200 backpacks in just a few days to those who need it most is something that shows the need for what we do, and the compassion of the community.”
On July 16, Austin Public also hosted the first Breakfast for the Homeless event. Dozens of homeless people from the area ate from a full buffet.
“It was a start for what we want to do,” said Austin Public owner Declan Morrison. “You walk down Forest Hills and there are just so many homeless in the area. It’s everywhere and in your face, so why ignore them?”
Austin Public has held 50/50 raffles to benefit BFTS during popular events such as Cinco de Mayo and the Super Bowl. They also collect money for the charity through donation boxes set on the bar.
Morrison chatted with one of the men at the breakfast event, and ended up offering him a dishwashing position at Austin Public. He started his first shift this past Saturday.
“He seemed like a nice guy and had a hard time finding work, so I said let’s give you a job and see how you do,” Morrison said. “Just because some of them might be dirty people ignore them, but they’re actually nice people and they need people to talk to them. They need a break every now and then.”