Bay Village resident Kristen Wander and her daughter Emily are working to pack and hand out backpacks filled with winter essentials to homeless people in Cleveland.


Being homeless is challenging. Being homeless during a pandemic with winter approaching is horrifying. Bay resident Kristen Wander and her daughter Emily are hoping to ease the horror. They started a donation drive to provide winter essentials for the homeless population in Cleveland.

“I noticed a lot of homeless people on my way to work,” said Wander, a legal assistant for Gallagher Sharp in Cleveland. “Knowing that winter was right around the corner, I wanted to put together a donation drive to provide them with basic things to prepare.”

Wander and her daughter are looking for items that can be easily packed into backpacks, including hats, gloves, scarves, food and masks. There is no deadline for the donations, which can be dropped off at the Bay Village police station, 28000 Wolf Road, Wander said.

The two began the project in September handing out Emily’s old book bags. On Oct. 3, Wander posted on social media that she was looking for help in getting items and since then, the two have received a large number of donations from the community. Those donations include blankets, masks and in one instance a thank you card with $40 to buy extra supplies for the drive.

“My favorite part of the project is knowing that we’re helping someone less fortunate than us,” said Emily, 14. “I think it’s the right thing to do. People should be willing to help each other no matter what.”

Wander has handed out eight backpacks during her lunch breaks. The hardest part of the project, she says, is finding those willing to accept help.

There were 1,618 homeless people recorded in 2019 in Cuyahoga County. When compared to eight other major counties in the state, Cuyahoga ranked third behind Franklin and Hillsborough, according to last year’s Cuyahoga Performance Report. It is unclear how the pandemic has affected those numbers.

Meanwhile, as many as 40% of people experiencing homelessness could contract COVID-19 and up to 10% could require hospitalization. People experiencing homelessness are two to three times more likely to die than the general population, according to a University of Pennsylvania study.

While she can’t help everyone in need, Wander plans to continue handing out backpacks as long as there are supplies and a community interested in helping.

“I want to show these people that there are people out there that care about them,” Wander said. “I want to do everything I can to make sure they’re prepared for the winter.”

Contact this reporter at or 216-307-6614.

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