Mother gives backpacks to homeless teens as tribute to son

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — As a tribute to her son who died as a teenager, a Utah mother organizes a yearly holiday program that gives backpacks filled with useful items to homeless youth.

Martha Crook this year handed out several hundred backpacks with underwear, socks, hand warmers, water bottles, bus tokens and gift cards. She relies on donations from businesses and people who want to help.

Crook carries out the Volunteers of America program called “Fill the Pack,” as a way to remember her son, David Crook, who died in his sleep in 2009. She first came into contact with homeless teens while dropping off her son’s clothes the winter after his death, the Deseret News reports ( ).

She was touched by how much the teens appreciated the donations and came up with the idea for the backpacks. In 2010, she donated about 100 backpacks with about $8,000 worth of goods. In 2015, that swelled to 300 packs with $20,000 worth of goods.

The backpacks this year even included movie tickets, new shoes thanks to Utah First Credit Union and new coats donated by Discover Card, she said.

“At this point in time it almost becomes like the sorcerer’s apprentice, where I don’t know where all the stuff comes from,” Crook said.

One of this year’s recipients, 20-year-old Samantha Klein, said the backpack was a touching show of support as she tries to get her life back on track.

“It’s really cool to see that people care enough to put their time and energy and effort and resources into helping out the youth here,” Klein said. “It’s really nice to be reminded that people care.”

Crook, a lifetime educator, said her son was influenced by the time he spent with an uncle who is a substance abuse counselor and worked with a homeless outreach program.

In fifth grade, he wrote for an assignment about what he wanted to do with his life that he wanted to cure homelessness and make sure all kids on the street have warm clothes.

Crook said she loves seeing the homeless teens be appreciative for the packs and treasures how the program reminds her of her son.

“This brings David home for the holidays,” she said.

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