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Backpacks For Life program helps veterans in need get in gear

Retired Marine Corp Sergeant Major and grandmother, Jamie DePaola is using her Coventry garage for a greater good.

COVENTRY, Conn. — Retired Marine Sergeant Major Jamie DePaola has a cottage industry emerging from her garage in Coventry.

Where cars once sat shielded from the elements, there are now backpacks and boxes of essential goods that are being donated to area veterans in need.

RELATED: Glastonbury Cub Scouts collect warm clothes for homeless veterans

For the past year, DePaola has volunteered her time and talents to the Backpacks For Life program, a New Jersey based non-profit, begun by fellow retired Marine Brett D’Allessandro in 2014.

The mission of Backpacks For Life is to provide a unique personalized support system for homeless and at-risk vets who are struggling to return to civilian life.

DePaola says for veterans who have nothing, a backpack full of necessities like toiletries, a jacket, gloves, and grocery gift cards is “like handing them a piece of themselves, something they are familiar with because that is what they had to survive for all those months at a time.”

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DePaola noted that she also works with local first responders to help locate veterans who need help. She's donated Backpacks for Life in Manchester, Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport - just to name a few cities.

Nationally, DePaola told FOX61 that Backpacks for Life in now in 26 states, and the program has donated over nine thousand packs since 2014.

Credit: FOX61

DePaola, a grandmother of 14, enlists help from not just from her family, but also from volunteers from around Coventry. Students and neighbors also pitch in to fill backpacks and separate hundreds of donated goods.

After filling up a few backpacks in DePaola’s garage, Erin Dutton, who donates her time to the program said it’s just an opportunity to give back to the community especially our veterans.

"They have served us for years to protect us and now it’s our chance to give something back to them and help them," Dutton added.

DePaola hopes she is able to continue her mission of helping veterans through the Backpacks For Life program.

"It often takes veterans helping other veterans to find their way and that backpack is that tool to get a dialog started," she said.

To learn more about the non-profit Backpacks For Life, click here.

RELATED: Serving those who served | A holiday tradition for local veterans continues in Manchester

Jimmy Altman is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at jaltman@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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