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Monday, April 23 News

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

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

The organization, like other nonprofits that donate backpacks of goods such as foodstuffs, 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 and lives in Los Angeles. "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, said Stein, who lives there.

"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."

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And so they created GoodyBags in 2012. The first donations came from vendors that the two met 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."

They hosted a fundraiser in November for Providence House, a nonprofit that provides shelter and support for homeless, abused and formerly incarcerated women and their children in a hospitable and compassionate way. More than 170 people attended and provided funding for GoodyBags going to five Providence Homes and money for a Jamaica project.

Stein connected with the Bernice and Melvin Clayton Foundation, a Bronx-based group focused on Jamaica. Its founder, Vinetta Williams Stone, was from St. Elizabeth Parish, and for 15 years the foundation has brought donations to parish children 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 the children.

According to the World Bank, which is working to end extreme poverty by 2030, 17.6 percent of the 2.7 million Jamaicans are living below the poverty line.

"They really live hand to mouth there," Jacobs said.

With 501(c)(3) status and two pilot programs completed, Stein said they can back up their goals with statistics and completed projects.

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

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