PORTSMOUTH — Willow Foregger says she wants to make a difference in the community, and she’s doing so — one backpack at a time.
The 13-year-old Pennfield School student is small in stature but big in ambition. She started an organization called Backpacks for a Cause, whose goal is to give away 200 backpacks — fully loaded with school supplies and other essential items — to children living in Rhode Island homeless shelters.
“For eighth grade we have to do community service, so I was like, ‘How about something that’s out there and can change people’s lives?’” Willow explained last week at her 1848 Union Street home, which was originally part of the Vanderbilts’ Oakland Farm. “I always wanted to help kids that are my age who can’t have the same things that I have.”
Willow, the daughter of Emily and Doug Foregger, raises money through her father’s GoFundMe account. She started the fund-raiser at the beginning of the summer and as of Monday night, she had collected $1,300 so far.
With that money she buys new backpacks, usually at TJMaxx, along with the supplies that go inside.
“I talked with a teacher at a public school because she was actually at the store when we were buying them. I bought pencils, markers, highlighters, binders, lunch boxes, water bottles — just basic supplies that they need,” she said, adding that she’s making up different backpacks for various age groups. She’s also throwing in items such as hair brushes, hair ties and books.
“I don’t think I’m going to ‘genderfy’ them,” said Willow. “Some girls may want boys’ stuff, and some boys may want girls’ stuff.”
She contacted a homeless shelter for moms and children in Providence, “but I’m not 100 percent sure where they’re all going yet. If they’re all full in Providence, we’ll probably go to Massachusetts.”
Each backpack containing supplies costs about $50, and her goal is to donate at least 200 in all.
Willow is somewhat of a renaissance girl. Besides her philanthropic endeavors, she’s also into rowing and loves art. (One of her paintings was featured in The Providence Journal.) She’s not sure just yet, but sees herself going into business when she gets older.
Willow has a sister who’s entering her junior year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and a bother who will be a sophomore at Middlesex School in Concord, Mass.
Although Pennfield School requires 20 hours of community service from each eighth-grader, Willow figures she’ll do her backpack project “on top of what’s already required.” She credits the school, as well as teacher and administrator Mattie Edwards-Kemp, for inspiring her to help others in need.
“Ms. Kemp does coat drives every year for Haiti,” Willow said. “We do a food drive every year as well.”
How to help
To help Willow reach her goal, visit www.gofundme.com/f/2f6e3dxju0. Supplies can also be donated to her Portsmouth address, which she is glad to provide privately. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Willow also created her own website, which includes a link to the fund-raising site, at www.backpacksforacause.com.