Tom & Charlotte Wienckoski
The Wienckoski’s passions in the community are children and homelessness. Tom and Charlotte have been lucky enough to be involved in quite a few very good causes from Candlelighters, to the Children’s Hunger Project, to Resurrection Ranch, to Daily Bread, and with Ascension Church. Tom Wienckoski says, “One thing Brevard has, really two things, it has some very worthwhile causes. And in addition to that, it has some tremendous people that are willing to jump up, step forward and help with these causes.” Charlotte Wienckoski tends to be most involved with Candlelighters. And her husband? “Anything to do with homelessness,” he says.
But when we asked for specifics, Tom Wienckoski immediately wanted to tell this story…
“We’ve been doing this event for about 15 years now and it’s called Christmas in a Pack. Every year, usually the Sunday before Christmas, we go down to the park behind the Melbourne library and we pass out about 400 backpacks. We also have sleeping bags, we have tents, some bikes and fishing poles as well. The backpacks are filled with things that people who are homeless might need daily. A backpack is convenient to them to keep their things together so we add flashlights, dry socks, sweatshirts, jackets and radios for them.
“It’s interesting the way this started. We were driving east on New Haven Avenue in Melbourne. My son was probably about 10 years old at the time. It was dark and very cold. We saw a lady who appeared to be in her sixties huddled up under blankets on a step. We went to a sporting goods store and bought two sleeping bags. When we handed her the bags, she immediately ran around the corner to give one to a friend. It was very thoughtful given her situation. I told her we’d come back tomorrow and bring her whatever she needed, and she said, ‘I can’t tomorrow night. We’re going to a backpack handout.’ We went to that event the next day — it was being run by Michael Bennett. Michael told us he’d been homeless, literally sleeping under bridges for about 10 years. But he met his wife at a VA soup kitchen, got married, moved into a small home, and started giving out backpacks. He moved to Jacksonville a bit later, and we took it over. We’ve been doing it ever since. It’s gone from 10 backpacks a year to over 400.”
Charlotte Wienckoski added, “It’s amazing now how many people are involved. Holy Trinity collects 30 or more backpacks. Ascension usually collects about 60, and other groups have been putting backpacks together for almost as long as we’ve been doing this. We also bring out two big grills to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. We pass out Christmas cookies, candy, and sometimes lottery tickets. It’s turned into a nice affair, not one of the biggest, but it’s just very touching how nice people are, how considerate and how appreciative.
“It’s a more personal event for us than anything else,” she explained. “We’ve done a lot of fundraisers and charities, but this is just a little more personal.”
YOU CAN HELP
Christmas in a Pack 2017
The greatest gift that the holidays can bring is helping those that are less fortunate than ourselves.
With the help of hundreds of families, volunteers and local businesses, this project has distributed more than 6,000 backpacks to the homeless in the past 14 years.
Building a Pack
Here are some suggestions for building a pack:
- A backpack, lots of pockets are very handy.
- Spill proof water bottle.
- An XL sweatshirt and socks (even a small person can keep warm with a large
shirt on a cold night).
- Washcloth, toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Ziploc baggies to help keep things dry and organized.
- Small battery operated radio and headphones can be a good friend on a lonely night.
- Flashlight to see where to lie down.
- 20 minute phone card to call home and let family know they are still okay.
- $5.00 McDonalds gift card.
- Handwritten Christmas cards.
- Pen and paper
- Snacks: dried fruits, nuts, canned goods with a pop-top, etc.
***SLEEPING BAGS ARE ALSO GREATLY APPRECIATED***