PORTLAND — Nearly 20 years ago, Dave Reese was volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Portland when a heartbreaking scene inspired a project that has helped thousands of local people in the years that have followed.

“A patron carrying a cardboard box walked in with rain-soaked clothes covering his body. In the box were all of his possessions,” said Dave. “As he was about to sit down for his meal, he lifted the box to get it over his table and, as he did, the soaked cardboard ripped, split, and the bottom fell out of it.”

Workers scurried to find plastic bags and another box to assist the gentleman. At the same time, a thought crossed Dave’s mind.

“What could be done to prevent this from happening again,” he said. “In a flash of spirit or intuition, the word ‘backpacks’ came to mind.”

Soon after, “Backpack Weekend” in Portland was born, and Dave and many of his fellow Knights of Columbus have dedicated themselves to the cause ever since.

“With three kids at home, I realized that we have some old backpacks,” he said. “In fact, anyone with kids has backpacks so let’s collect them.”

Each year on a selected weekend, the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Hope Parish collect any and all backpacks, new and gently used, donated by parishioners and community members. This year, the backpacks will be collected on the weekend of Dec/ 4-5. Those interested in participating can drop off backpacks in collection boxes at the entrance of the two churches before, during, and after the following Masses:

St. Pius X Church, 492 Ocean Avenue, Portland
Saturday, Dec. 4, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 5, 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.,

St. Joseph Church, 673 Stevens Avenue, Portland
Sunday, Dec. 5, 8 a.m., 10 a.m., and 5 p.m.

Backpacks can also be dropped off any time the parish’s pastoral office at 673 Stevens Avenue on Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. After the backpacks are collected, the Knights will distribute them to people in need at the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen.

“As I see people of the street with backpacks on their shoulders, and when I see children in tow with their less fortunate parents or guardians, I think to myself that their burdens are eased a bit more this day because they know that their community does care,” said Dave. “Perhaps there is hope that will guide them forward toward a more fruitful life where their burdens are lifted and where they can rest in warmth and comfort within the heart of Christ!”

For more information, contact Our Lady of Hope Parish at 207-797-7026.