Pack Your Back: CMU student creates nonprofit to help Flint children with school supplies
When Central Michigan University sophomore Galen Miller distributed bottled water to Flint residents last March during the city's water crisis, he realized water alone wouldn’t be enough to help Flint's struggling residents.
As media outlets ranging from CNN to NPR actively covered the news of the city's water crisis, the Bad Axe native was doing philanthropy work in Flint with CMU fraternity Phi Delta Theta. Miller, 20, said he noticed once the news organizations began leaving the city, so did the help.
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church | 1828 Jay St, Detroit, MI 48207
Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church | 4440 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207
St. Josaphat Catholic Church | 715 E. Canfield St, Detroit, MI 48201
Ross Medical Education Center | 4741 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48108
St. Mary University Parish | 1405 S Washington St, Mt Pleasant, MI 48858
Foster’s Towing | 32535 Groesbeck Hwy, Fraser, MI 48026
Calvary Memorial Church | 909 Giles Rd, Muskegon, MI 49445
Janet’s Graphics & Printing | 598 N Port Crescent St, Bad Axe, MI 48413
Our Savior Lutheran Church | 123 W Irwin St, Bad Axe, MI 48413
Independent Bank (State Street) | 3601 State St, Saginaw, MI 48602
Independent Bank (Center Road) | 1445 N Center Rd, Saginaw, MI 48638
Independent Bank (Dixie Highway) | 5500 Dixie Hwy, Saginaw, MI 48601
Independent Bank (Fashion Square Mall) | 4850 Bay Rd, Saginaw, MI 48604
United Bay Community Credit Union | 1309 N. Lincoln Ave, Bay City, MI 48708
United Bay Community Credit Union | 3939 N. Euclid Ave, Bay City, MI 48706
United Bay Community Credit Union | 205 S Mable St, Pinconning, MI 4865
Frankie Hair Salon | 6005 Miller Rd #8, Swartz Creek, MI 48473
Veterans Of Now | 608 W. Court St, Flint, MI 48503
That’s when Miller decided to take action.
While Flint's residents lived through plastic water bottles, Miller helped in a different way by creating a nonprofit organization called "Pack Your Back."
The organization began a statewide school supplies fundraiser in May, with supplies ranging from backpacks to notebooks and pencils. To make donations possible, the organization set out 20 collection boxes around Michigan to accept physical donations.
After surpassing their goal of 100 backpacks in only three months, the organization has increased its goal to raise 500 backpacks. The children will be receiving the backpacks on Aug. 19, right before school starts.
“We know poverty has a lot to do with childhood development,” he said. “Flint is very poverty-stricken and there’s not a lot of money in the city so we got thinking and decided to do a drive for the kids in Flint to help them early on in their lives.”
About 42 percent of Flint residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“In Flint, I saw a lot of pain, but I also saw a lot of togetherness,” Miller said. “I saw them hurting because they’re scared and don’t know what’s going to happen. But I saw them unite as one community to try to find a way to solve the problem.”
CMU sophomore Caroline Murray, from Rockford, and Pack Your Back grant and research manager, said she decided to volunteer once she realized that making a difference in the community was actually possible.
She said Flint has been hit with so much tragedy and confusion, children’s educational needs may be put on the back burner compared to other necessities.
“Imagine going to school without pencils or notebooks. Pencils and paper seem so simple, but it’s the basics of what make or break their career,” she said. “The more we help them with education, the more they’re able to provide a future for themselves. As older students, we need to help the younger generation so they can grow up and change the world.”
All Pack Your Back volunteers are 25 years old or younger. Of the organization's eight members, four are current CMU members and one is an alumni.
Miller said other Flint organizations are often surprised by how young the volunteers are because of the large amount of dedication nonprofits need to stay alive.
Miller said the organization's youth is just further proof that age isn’t relevant when it comes to working to improve the world.
His generation, he said, grew up hearing "terrifying news" daily, from weekly mass shootings to wars. It looked like the world was quickly spiraling downhill, he said, but the uphill battle of a better world begins with his generation.
“Everyone is passionate because we want a better world for our future. We don’t want those constantly terrible things happening in the future,” Miller said. “We want it to be better for our children. We want them to have a better world and not have to see the things we (see). That starts with us.”
Miller said he hopes Pack Your Back will "continue forever" by switching the locations they donate the backpacks to. He said he plans the next stop to be Detroit.