18-year-old takes over Calgary Christmas backpack charity

Calgary charity Stephen’s Backpacks is making sure every kid receives some Christmas cheer this holiday season.

The charity has been handing out backpacks to children in need for 13 years.

Stephen McPhee started the project when he was just five-years-old after overhearing his parents talk about homeless Albertans.

“I soon learned that not everyone has a place to live,” McPhee said. “I thought it wasn’t right so I wanted to help.”

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Since 2006, the charity has delivered 64,000 backpacks to several local non-profits including Inn from the Cold and the Medicine Hat Woman’s Shelter Society.

The kits include hats, mittens, toiletries, a blanket, and an age-appropriate toy.

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On top of trying to deliver more backpacks than ever, this year also holds special meaning for Stephen.

Stephen’s father Jim McPhee was the charity’s president until he passed away in 2017 from cancer.

Now that Stephen is 18, he’s taken over as president and wants to carry on where his dad left off.

“My dad was a man who [was] stubborn and no matter what got things done,” Stephen said. “I guess I have to fill in the shoes that he’s left. If I’m anything like him, I do know what it means to get stuff done.”

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Taking over a large project at a young age also motivates some of the charity’s newer volunteers like Sara Race.

“I think that’s really inspiring because it’s kind of like saying you can do anything as a tiny five-year-old,” Race said. “[You can] even start a huge business and help lots of people.”

Stephen’s Backpacks hopes to hand out 6,000 backpacks this yea,r and has also started a year-round project called Project Hope, which aims to help out less-fortunate Albertans furnish their homes.

“We get so much and we take it for granted,” Stephen said. “Just to give back could, honestly, be the best Christmas present you could ever give someone.”

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