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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Putting the 'good' in bags, two friends' nonprofit helps those in need

Published 11:10 am, Sunday, January 26, 2014

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  • Morgan Jacobs, at left, and Rena Stein came together to create GoodyBags, a non-profit organization. They went to Jamaica during Christmas to distribute their bags to impoverished children. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News Contributed

    Morgan Jacobs, at left, and Rena Stein came together to create GoodyBags, a non-profit organization. They went to Jamaica during Christmas to distribute their bags to impoverished children.

    Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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Morgan Jacobs and Rena Stein have managed to overcome a 3,000-mile separation to help those in need through their nonprofit organization, GoodyBags.

The organization, like several other nonprofits that donate backpacks of goods like food, gives bags filled with school supplies, solar-powered lights, toys and other age-appropriate items to impoverished children.

"We had seen backpack models before," said Jacobs, who called Darien home for eight years. "Plenty of companies did school supplies, but we didn't find anything that had comforting items that kids can call their own."

The two met while working for a nonprofit organization in New York City and quickly connected, Stein said.

"We both felt like we wanted to do something to help people," Stein said. "So we started brainstorming different things that we didn't see in the marketplace."

And so they created GoodyBags in 2012. The organization's mission statement reads: "In times of uncertainty and unpredictably, GoodyBags offers a tangible and enduring sense of security, comfort and relief that all children deserve."

The first batch of donations came from different vendors that the two connected with at the New York International Gift Fair at the Javits Center.

"My philosophy is that everyone wants to give, and all you have to do is show them how and make it accessible to them," Stein said. "I walked out of the gift show with amazingly generous donations of backpacks, stuffed animals and journals."

The women's moment to shine came in November, when they hosted a fundraiser for Providence House, a nonprofit that provides shelter and support for homeless, abused, formerly incarcerated women and their children in a hospitable, nonviolent, compassionate way.

More than 170 people attended the event and provided GoodyBags with the funding needed to give to five Providence Homes and raise money for a Jamaica project in December.

Stein was able to connect with the Bernice and Melvin Clayton Foundation, a Bronx-based group focused on Jamaica. Its founder, Vinetta Williams Stone, was from the St. Elizabeth Parish. For 15 years, the foundation has brought donations to the children of the parish for an annual Christmas party, but this past holiday, there was a chance they would not be able to provide for all the children, so GoodyBags jumped at the chance to help.

On Dec. 21, the two women flew to Jamaica to distribute 400 GoodyBags to children at the St. Elizabeth Parish.

The two were looking for opportunities to make the most impact, Jacobs said, but maybe not with a big organization.

While in Jamaica, Stein and Jacobs took a walk with their host family to see where those they were helping lived. The houses, Jacobs said, were "bare bones, as you can imagine.

"It's not like being impoverished in the inner city," Jacobs said.

According to the World Bank, an organization that is working to end extreme poverty by 2030, 17.6 percent of the 2.712 million Jamaicans are living below the poverty line.

"They really live hand to mouth there," Jacobs said. "They really don't have a lot, and to see how happy these kids were and so well-behaved. They were sitting happily and getting along with everyone. It was astonishing."

The children received one bag each, but the two women said the kids were more than happy.

"It wasn't an American Christmas as we know it," Jacobs said. "But it was so great to see the impact it had and their faces light up."

The two said what they're doing can be done anywhere in the world.

"As long as we get the funding, it can be anywhere," Stein said. "It could be in Africa, or in Los Angeles, or in the Midwest. Like any nonprofit, it's about getting the funding."

With 501(c)(3) status and two pilot programs completed, Stein said, "We are able to back up our goals with actual statistics and completed projects and show that we can complete projects successfully from beginning to end."

Jacobs echoes Stein, adding that the nonprofit status is a big step forward for the organization.

"With 501(c)(3) status, the next step is to begin applying for grants from foundations, in whatever size achievable, to build a hopefully steadier cash flow for the organization and allow us to not rely on project-by-project fundraising," Jacobs said.

Stein is living in New York City, while Jacobs is in Los Angeles, but because they are friends, they make the organization work.

"It's had its challenges," Jacobs, whose parents live in Darien, said. "But we talk all the time, anyway."

Because she and Jacobs are running their own organization, Stein said they're able to devote as much time as they want to it, though Stein is doing work for GoodyBags when she is not focused on her work with the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. Jacobs is working with a Los Angeles energy investment firm, the name of which is confidential until it finishes raising capital.

"I have big dreams for GoodyBags and think the sky is the limit," Stein said. "There are so many organizations and individuals that can benefit from what we are doing, and all we need is the funding to carry out the projects."

The two are exploring grant options and establishing a certified board for the organization to help them grow and spread their cause.

"I really think that 2014 can be our year to expand and grow, and I am working as much as possible to make this become a reality," Stein said.

For information, visit givegoodybags.org or email info@givegoodybags.org.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews