“I know what it’s like to go without, I know what it’s like to change four to five schools in a year's time,” said Dawn Marie Rapaport.
Rapaport has found her purpose through personal struggle. As a child, the founder of nonprofit Homeless Engagement Lift Partnership experienced years of homelessness firsthand. At times she was left wondering where that next meal may come from.
“My favorite subject in school was lunch. It was a time when I knew I was going to have food,” said Rapaport. “Sometimes we were able to eat. I had my grandparents but other times it was a little scarce. When you don’t get the amount of food that you need, how do you do your homework, how do you just go on when you’re hungry?”
It’s a question she’s helping children across the Valley avoid. On the second Saturday of every month, hundreds of volunteers pack HelpSnackz at their Phoenix headquarters. Thousands of small sacks then head out to 22 school districts, destined for children facing food insecurity.
“We put nonperishable food on the inside and on the outside of the bag we would write messages,” said Rapaport showing off the bags now ready to be shipped away in plastic bins.
The messages read “You are amazing” and “Smile, you got this.” It’s a simple gesture but those heartfelt words go along way. She says it’s the volunteers that are the engine behind this vehicle of giving. Many times businesses looking to host team building events will pitch in to pack the sacks. Rapaport says when they started the effort four years ago, they had no idea how much it would grow.
“We were doing like 400 a month and we thought boy we’re doing a lot, and now year to date, four years later, we’re doing anywhere from 25 to 26,000 HelpSnackz a month,” said Rapaport.
“Hearing her story, it just pulls you in,” said volunteer Diane Verhoeven. “Then as we have other volunteers coming in, you hear similar stories that they have so they want to help because they were in that situation when they were young. It’s just amazing."
It doesn’t stop at the HelpSnackz. They do back pack and sneaker drives, outreach programs and so much more. The organization's reach is truly life changing and for Rapaport, it’s changed her life as well.
“When you are helping a child and they feel loved and they feel like somebody cares about them, that’s a good start,” said Rapaport.
To learn more about volunteering, visit the organization's website.