Local family comes together to help those in need
Most school-aged children are dreading a return to pencils and books this month, but Airdrie’s McPhee family has their eyes on a bigger goal.
The McPhees have been working tirelessly for six years to help homeless children in need.
Stephen’s Backpacks Society is a charitable organization that was created after Stephen McPhee told his mother Nancy that he wanted to help homeless children.
“It just came from his heart and it is something that he has inspired all of us to become a part of,” said Nancy.
The organization had its beginning in 2006 when the family collected 15 backpacks full of toys, hygiene products and school supplies in their living room. Since then, every member of the family has pitched in.
“The whole family was drawn right to it. They were inspired by the seed that Stephen planted,” said Nancy.
“It’s just a part of our life now. It’s a part of our journey.”
In 2007, the society started collecting shoes for children in need.
“The shoe program has been very labour intensive but the family never waivers,” she added.
“It’s not Stephen’s Backpacks, it’s the family’s backpacks, it’s the community’s backpacks.”
On year two of the program, the group collected 265 backpacks that filled their home.
“The children never complained even though they couldn’t watch TV,” said Nancy.
“They never wished they hadn’t done it.”
Nancy said her 15-year-old daughter Breanne has been a huge help from the start.
“She is so supportive and rallies the troops,” Nancy added, about the eldest daughter of five siblings.
“She sets an example as the oldest.”
Breanne said the family has always been really close and done things together so she was happy to lend a hand.
“Doing backpacks together makes us closer. Teenagers are becoming so caught up in technology and they lose that family feeling and connection with their family,” said Breanne.
“We go to the Inn From the Cold shelter in Calgary and we see those people that have nothing yet they are so close and that makes us want to be close.
“It really puts things into perspective, so I look at things and think, ‘Is this necessary for me to have or is this a luxury?’”
Breanne has also brought the cause to the leadership group at George McDougall High School, where she attends.
Twelve-year-old Jacob said he thinks it is important to help people who don’t have anything. He also said he likes to help sort shoes and backpacks and lift boxes.
The family’s six- and seven-year-old sons also take part in sorting, packing, drawing pictures for children in need and any other task they can help with.
“Working together in this way really builds family bonds that can’t be broken,” Nancy said.
Nancy and Breanne said the family isn’t perfect and there is the odd fight between siblings.
“We definitely have our good days and the days we argue but the backpacks are something we can all agree on,” said Breanne.
Nancy said she is seeing a real shift in families in the community who want to bring their kids and volunteer with Stephen’s Backpacks.
“It is educational, it builds self esteem, it unites families,” she said.
“It helps kids develop a healthy respect in our city for those that need help. It gives them a sense that this is the right thing to do.”
She said the more people that work together as families to better the community, the more the community becomes one big family.
“As quickly as Airdrie is growing, we are maintaining our family feel,” she said.
Nancy’s husband Jim said he is very proud of his children and how they have come together for the greater good.
“It’s just marvellous to see,” he said.
“We hope other families catch the vision of what we are doing and help out. It is encouraging to know you are part of a community.”
For more information on Stephen’s Backpacks, visit www.stephensbackpacks.com
To volunteer with the organization, call 403-852-9308.
To comment on this story, visit www.airdriecityview.com