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Student-led organization contributes to local youth shelter

Bags of Promise team members pose behind a selection of backpacks
Bags of Promise team members, and Queen's students, from left, Makena Sceeles, Megan Stellato, and Celina Lovisotto deliver backpacks filled with hygiene and non-perishable food products to a local local youth shelter in Kingston on Saturday, Feb. 5. (Supplied photo) 

As the cold, winter weather continues, Queen’s undergraduate student and co-founder of the non-profit organization Bags of Promise, Celina Lovisotto has been busy helping youths who are struggling with homelessness in the Kingston community.

To address the challenges faced by youth who may be transitioning or living in precarious housing situations, Bags of Promise recently organized a winter bag drive to provide support and raise awareness of youth homelessness locally.

“Reflecting on the challenges young homelessness individuals encounter on a daily basis, we identified a need for the community to come together and help anyway we can,” Lovisotto says. “Homelessness can look different for everyone, but many people overlook everyday items that are in need by youth not only to survive, but also to provide a sense of dignity.”

Facilitating community involvement

The event called for donations to fill reusable backpacks with essential items including hygiene and non-perishable food products for distribution at a local youth shelter. Among the donations received were products from companies throughout Kingston 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 grassroot efforts, Bags of Promise’s bag drive involved using Lovisotto’s living room as a logistics hub to assemble the contents of the bags. The bags included items for male, female, and gender-neutral youth between the ages of 13 and 24 with contents specific to their needs.  

Bags of Promise successfully distributed 30 bags to a local youth shelter in Kingston with plans to distribute another 20 bags with additional items at a later date. With the pandemic impacting the amount of donations for many charitable organizations, this initiative comes at a time when youth shelters are seeking support and collaboration from community partners.

“The response from the community has been amazing. We’re thrilled to raise awareness of such an important issue and gain traction for future initiatives,” Lovisotto says. “Watching BOP come to life as the team promotes tangible, positive change has been incredibly rewarding.”

The Bags of Promise team consists of 11 Queen’s students and one Royal Military College student, and is focused on increasing awareness, education, and access to services for youth who are struggling with housing in the community. (Supplied photo)

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 transporting items for the unhoused, the two students decided to create an organization built on the premise that providing reusable bags would instill a sense of pride for youth while also providing a space for belongings to be stored.

The organization, which now consists of 11 Queen’s students and one Royal Military College student, is focused on increasing awareness, education, and access to services for youth who are struggling with housing in the community.

Noting the intersectionality of youth homelessness and gender identity, Bags of Promise plans to continue to provide support through the provision of gender-neutral bags and items in the future. Looking beyond the winter bag drive, the team’s passion for mitigating youth homelessness will continue to focus on education and advocacy to combat stigma associated with young people who are without housing.

“By shining a spotlight on youth homelessness, we hope to motivate other students and members of the Kingston community to extend compassion, and understanding needed to help elevate youth,” Lovisotto says.

To make a donation or to learn more, visit the Bags of Promise website.