Aimee Falkenberg is helping tackle homelessness one backpack at a time.
The Qualicum Beach forensic nurse runs a program called the Backpack Project.
This month, Falkenberg handed out more than 200 backpacks and purses filled with warm socks, toques and scarves among other items to people in-need in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.
Falkenberg hails from Surrey but relocated to Qualicum Beach in 2013.
“No community is immune to homelessness problems,” she said.
Falkenberg first got involved with the Backpack Project in 2008 in Surrey through her work as a forensic nurse examiner. When she moved to Vancouver Island, she brought the project with her.
“I work with women, men and children who have been affected by violence. A lot of these patients live on the streets,” she said. “They are some of the strongest individuals I have ever met.”
Falkenberg explains community members stuff backpacks for men full of gloves, toques, scarves, toothbrushes, socks, hot chocolate, mugs and even Christmas cards; and donors stuff purses for women full of similar items but they also include cosmetics like tubes of lipstick, nail polish, necklaces, earrings and feminine products.
One year, while she was handing out purses Falkenberg said a woman came up and gave her a big hug.
“She said she loved everything in her purse… I was wearing this purple scarf and she said ‘that scarf makes you look like an angel’ and walked away and I said ‘come back, I want you to have this’ and I wrapped it around her and she said ‘I feel so beautiful’ and that woman walked away five feet taller,” recalls Falkenberg.
“It was just a simple scarf. That’s what I wanted to do with the purses. I wanted to give these women something to make them feel pretty, so they can feel like a lady.”
Falkenberg said often when women arrive at transition houses they have nothing but what they showed up in.
This year, Falkenberg said dozens of residents and businesses contributed to the project either stuffing their own backpacks and purses or donating items to be stuffed in a bag.
She called the response “astounding.”
Falkenberg partners with Island Crisis Care Society and Manna Homeless Society to distribute the bags to homeless men, women and children living in and out shelters in the mid-Island.