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Bubba's Backpack Brigade lends a hand

by Nick Rotunno
| December 25, 2010 8:00 PM

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Bubba Lamb, 10, carries an armful of bags into Fresh Start as his father Chad unloads more bags to his younger brothers.

COEUR d'ALENE - When 10-year-old Bubba Lamb traveled to Seattle with his family, he was struck by an unfamiliar sight: a homeless man, wandering the streets and asking for cash.

Bubba lived in a nice home with a fine family in Coeur d'Alene. He didn't know about poverty, or joblessness. He had never seen the destitute, the poor.

"It was an awakening for him," said his mother, Mistie. "He had no idea before that (encounter) that there was a whole population of people that didn't have a home."

The kind-hearted Bubba, troubled by what he saw, wanted to give the man his own teddy bear.

"It's just in him to be a giver. He's always been a giver. He's never been able to tolerate somebody being in need, if he can do something about it," Mistie said. "That really moved us, and my husband in particular, to start thinking, 'What can we do?'"

Two months later, Mistie and Bubba's father, Chad, had a plan. They would stuff grocery bags with canned goods and toiletry items, and pass them out to the local homeless. Enlisting Bubba and his two brothers, 6-year-old Judah and 9-year-old Jon-Marc, the family loaded bags and kept a stockpile in their vehicle.

Whenever they could, to whomever they could find, Bubba and his siblings would hand out their packages.

"We wanted to go to places where there were people who had a need," Chad said. "But being a typical American family, we didn't have any idea where to go."

So, they visited Fresh Start on Sherman Avenue and asked for some tips. They traveled to Spokane, to the streets of Coeur d'Alene, visiting homeless communities in parking lots and under bridges.

The strategy worked well, and soon the Lambs were making a difference. "God bless you," they would often hear from the homeless they were helping. Then, one day last spring, they needed a bag and didn't have one.

"But we had Bubba's backpack, so Bubba said, 'Can we put the stuff in here?'" Jon-Marc recalled. "And that's how Bubba's Backpack Brigade started."

The project grew as word spread. The Lambs hunted down backpacks all over town, filling them with toothbrushes, soap, food, sweatshirts and socks. When the Christmas season rolled around, Chad's workplace, Healthcare Resource Group in Spokane Valley, set up a tree of sharing to benefit the Backpack Brigade.

"It's really been overwhelming, their response," Mistie said. "They've just really been amazing. What's so good about (the brigade) is it's so simple. It's just really a simple idea. We can't fill every need. But, if we can put socks in a backpack, that helps."

And on Friday, Christmas Eve, the Lambs arrived at the Fresh Start center on Sherman Avenue with 50 backpacks in tow. They handed out close to 40, and also gave away about 80 wrapped Christmas gifts.

For the homeless who had gathered at Fresh Start, many of whom had nowhere else to go, it was a very merry morning.

"It's neat. It helps people that need help," said Carol Hartman of Coeur d'Alene, who had just received a backpack. "Some of us need it more now than ever. (I) think that's awesome that people would take the time to do that."

As Fresh Start patrons lined up to receive their packages, the Lambs greeted them all with a smile. The center also served a warm holiday breakfast and cups of coffee.

"I think it's a real nice thing that they're doing," said George Womeldorff of Coeur d'Alene. He said the backpack items and gifts would personally help him out.

"I didn't expect it," he added. "That was really cool."

Teresa Martinson, a hard-working Fresh Start board member who spends time at the center almost every day, said she was "blown away" by the Lambs' story. She was impressed with the youngsters, Bubba in particular, who was so open and unafraid.

"It's just so special to see them, and how they picked up this cause, and put so much into it," Martinson said.

The Lambs hope to collect and distribute 25 backpacks per month. They'll be stopping at Fresh Start every month, too, continuing what they started on Christmas Eve.

"I think it was pretty good that people could come together and have a good, merry time," said Kary Dugger of Coeur d'Alene, who arrived two weeks ago from Dutch Harbor, AK. He was also a backpack recipient on Friday.

"We're all brothers and sisters here on Earth. And Christmas is just a reminder of that."

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