Katelyn Cunningham of Act of Kindness homeless assistance program

Katelyn Cunningham begins to load up 250 backpacks with hygiene essentials, which she plans to donate to county shelters. The budding community activist is seeking donations to complete her mission. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Cunningham.

There’s an adage that you never need a reason to help people, and Discovery Bay’s Katelyn Cunningham is living proof.

After dwelling on the idea for two years, Cunningham has started Act of Kindness, a program through which she provides backpacks filled with hygiene essentials for the displaced and homeless in East County.

“This idea has been fermenting for about two years, but I realized how badly I wanted to make a difference when a couple of my family members got sick,” said Cunningham. “I made the final decision that I wanted to fill at least 250 backpacks, and I was so eager to get started that I ran out and bought all them immediately, out of pocket.”

According to the Contra Costa Council on Homelessness, there were 3,500 individuals identified as homeless or at risk of homelessness in the county, in January. Slightly less than half (1,730) of these individuals were literally homeless and 1,770 were at risk of homelessness.

Among the literally homeless, there were 620 people in shelters, and another 1,110 were sleeping on the streets. Youth under the age of 18 made up 11 percent of the homeless population and two-thirds of those youth were residing in shelters the night of the count.

A few weeks ago, Cunningham started campaigning with a passion, bringing in friends and neighbors and posting on the social media site, NextDoor. Through the site, the community immediately began supporting her mission.

“I was very surprised by how quickly people responded and humbled by their generosity,” said Cunningham. “People were immediately making donations, collecting donations from others and even making scarves to donate. It was a great reminder of how helpful and amazing people can be.”

One of the people helping Cunningham collect items for the backpacks is Angie Suttles, another Discovery Bay resident.

“Like a lot of people, I just want to make a difference,” said Suttles. “When I saw her post on NextDoor, I sent it out to my friends and coworkers, and since then, I have been collecting donations from people I haven’t even met. The ripple effect is a beautiful thing.”

Collecting until New Year’s Day, Cunningham is accepting donations of gloves, beanies, scarves, blankets, toiletries like soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and all the other hygiene items most people unwittingly take for granted in daily life. Once the backpacks are filled, she will donate them to children’s shelters, women’s shelters and homeless shelters in the Contra Costa County.

“Eventually, I want to turn this effort into a nonprofit, with a change in focus in every quarter,” said Cunningham. “I have lots of ideas of other ways to help and be an asset to everyone in the community. In the end, I just want to make as much of a difference as I can to as many people as possible.”

Suttles agrees with Cunningham’s mission and mirrors her enthusiasm for charitable work.

“Projects like this really bring people together and highlight the need in our area,” she said. “Every little bit helps, and even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge impact in a small community.”

For more information or to make a donation, call 925-323-2233.