Madeline Morse, Congregation B’nai Amoona

Madeline Morse chose Project Backpack for her mitzvah project and she has continued to volunteer since. A year and a half later, she no plans to stop.  

When Madeline was researching possible mitzvah projects, she wanted it to be hands-on as well as something she could do long term. Project Backpack fit the bill; she has been volunteering with the organization for over a year and a half and plans to continue doing so for as long as she can. Madeline is the daughter of Sheri Recoon and Howard Morse of Chesterfield. 

Created in 1999, Project Backpack’s mission is to help children in the St. Louis area who are victims of domestic violence by providing backpacks to area police departments, social service agencies, domestic violence shelters and the Department of Family Services social workers. These backpacks, filled with necessary items such as sleep tees, socks, toiletries, school supplies and a stuffed animal, tells the child that someone cares when their world is crashing around them.

Judy Pearlstone, Project Backpack founder and executive director/president, was very welcoming to Madeline. She explained its mission, gave a tour of the facility and showed Madeline how to “make” a backpack. 

At first Madeline volunteered with her friend and fellow bat mitzvah student, Mari Krivelow. However, their schedules were difficult to synchronize. Other times, Madeline would bring a friend from school. She also encouraged several other teens to volunteer, such as friends Jake Tessler, Rachel Izsak and Rebecca Zlepper. All ended up making Project Backpack their mitzvah projects as well. And, Madeline’s entire family, including her eight-year-old brother Jason, has volunteered one time or another.

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The backpacks are gender and age specific; boy or girl and birth to teen. As a volunteer, Madeline was responsible for finding items in the warehouse that would be appropriate for the child she was given. She would then fill the backpack after an older volunteer ensured her selections were suitable. Madeline also worked on special projects requested by Pearlstone and her staff. 

So far, Madeline has filled over 100 backpacks.

In addition to her volunteering, Madeline’s bimah baskets at her bat mitzvah were filled with items used to make the backpacks. Her party favors for her friends were backpacks that included a flyer describing the program and requesting that they consider making a donation directly to Project Backpack. Madeline also donated a portion of her gifts back to the organization. 

A student at Whitfield School, Madeline said she feels really good about herself because she knows that she is helping other children. 

During one of her first times at the warehouse, a representative from one of the shelters asked Madeline if she knew who she was filling the backpacks for. Madeline said, “Kids in crisis.”  The woman asked Madeline if she knew what that meant. Madeline said that she kind of knew. The woman explained to Madeline that some of these children never had a toothbrush before. By explaining it on this level, Madeline has a better grasp of who these children are and the situations they are in.