Whenever you travel, there is an opportunity to make a positive impact on the local community beyond the tourist dollars that you spend. Pack for a Purpose is an organization that coordinates travelers with local charities. The idea is simple, yet genius – fill your unused suitcase space with necessary supplies that will improve lives.
I spoke with Rebecca Rothney, founder of Pack for a Purpose, to hear her story. I learned of an ingenious idea how travelers can make a profound difference in the lives of many around the world.
What Was The Idea Behind Pack For A Purpose?
Rebecca and her husband traveled to Africa for the first time in 2000. She fell in love with the people, and they made several return visits. On one visit, the tour organizers mentioned it would be possible for Rebecca to visit a local school after her safari. As a former teacher, she thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity. Because she and her husband are both former educators and would be traveling with two suitcases apiece, Rebecca what school supplies they needed and the school provided a list of needs.
She went full steam ahead and handed out wish lists to her friends and family. Altogether, they rounded up 140 pounds of supplies. When they brought the supplies to the African school, the teachers almost cried. The school was nice and new, but literally did not have one ruler anywhere on campus!
Seeing this, Rebecca turned to her husband and said: “we’re doing this on every trip from now on.”
Emboldened by the impact Rebecca and her friends had made, she created Pack for a Purpose and officially launched the website in December 2009.
How Does It Work?
The beauty about Pack for a Purpose is that it requires minimal effort on the part of a traveler. Travel like you normally do and enjoy your vacation like you intend to.
The accommodations and tour companies that support community projects in their local communities submit a needs list to Pack For A Purpose. These local travel-related businesses are already involved with these community projects and welcome donations from travelers to assist in the work they are doing in the community.
To make the process easier on everyone, donations are dropped off at these sponsoring organizations that are in a convenient location. Most of the time, these drop-off locations are in popular tourist areas, such as at a hotel. Donations are bundled together in one larger package before being taken to the community projects.
As a policy, travelers never deliver donations directly to the recipient. Depending upon the local policies, if a traveler would like to visit the recipients, it may be possible to visit the community projects that you are giving to. For example, when charities are focused on minor children or victims of abuse, maintaining their privacy is a primary concern. Contact Pack for a Purpose to find out if this option is available.
Travelers bring requested supplies and drop them off at participating accommodations and tour companies, then go back to enjoying their vacation.
How Can Travelers Participate?
Participation is simple, quick, and convenient.
Travelers search on the Pack For A Purpose website ahead of their trip to find out if participants are nearby their destination. In some cases, the travelers are staying at a hotel that is sponsoring these community projects. If there is one, the community project will have a list of requested supplies. The traveler then buys the supplies or encourages others to donate them.
Rebecca recommends buying school supplies during the annual Back to School sales when you can buy items like rulers, paper, scissors, and other basic items for less than $1 each.
The supplies are packed into the spare room within their suitcase. Most airlines allow a traveler to carry up to 50 pounds per checked suitcase.
At the destination, they deliver them to the participating accommodations and tour companies. Once the supplies are dropped off, the traveler goes back to enjoying their vacation.
The whole process takes only minutes.
How Does A Community Project Get On The List?
All supporters of community organizations are welcome to apply, and there is no cost to participate. It is required that an accommodation or a tour company sponsor the community project and will be responsible for delivering the donations to the project.
Once an application has been submitted, the Pack For A Purpose volunteers review submissions to ensure they are legitimate.
Every four months, Pack for a Purpose contacts participating organizations to receive updates on the donations received and to update the needs list. An organization’s needs change on a regular basis and Pack for a Purpose updates this information promptly when received.
Originally, there were 20 locations in 15 countries. Today, there are over 400 locations across 60 countries.
Can People Make Tax-Deductible Donations?
Yes, Pack for a Purpose is an established 501(c)3 charitable organization. All monetary donations are tax deductible.
Rebecca is retired and donates her time without compensation. Pack for a Purpose is seeking monetary donations so that it can fund full-time employees to expand its mission. It is estimated that $150,000 in donations per year would fund two full-time employees and cover overhead.
Consult your tax professional to discuss if the supplies you donate are deductible. In my opinion, even if the supplies are not tax deductible, paying it forward can make a wonderfully positive impact in a community and the lives of the locals.