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Girl heads backpack project

Archana Venkatesan, 14, founder of “Bags for Benefit,” (and the Suffolk Library mascot, Fred), is collaborating with the city’s libraries to collect backpacks for homeless children.

Archana Venkatesan, 14, founder of “Bags for Benefit,” (and the Suffolk Library mascot, Fred), is collaborating with the city’s libraries to collect backpacks for homeless children.

A Suffolk girl hopes to collect hundreds of backpacks this summer for homeless children in the area.

Archana Venkatesan’s favorite quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The 14-year old took this quote and ran with it to start a movement in the Suffolk community. “Bags for Benefit” was the result.

Through her venture, Venkatesan wants to provide backpacks for homeless children.

“This problem is usually overlooked,” Venkatesan said. “But many kids don’t have this simple pleasure.”

Venkatesan firmly believes her movement is significant, because it goes beyond the physical act of donating.

“The donations will help a homeless child fit in and start school on a positive note — it will give them a sense of belonging and normalcy,” she said.

Earlier this summer, Venkatesan met with various businesses to discuss hosting donation sites. Due to corporate policies, many of these businesses had to decline Venkatesan’s venture, leaving her discouraged.

However, just last week, the city’s library system approved her project and agreed to set up donation boxes at each of its three branches.

“Shout out to the Suffolk libraries,” said Indra Venkatesan, Archana’s mother. “They have been so supportive.”

The North Suffolk, Morgan Memorial and Chuckatuck branches agreed to be donation sites through Aug. 30. She will then donate the backpacks to children at the Genieve Shelter and the ForkKids Suffolk house.

A local Starbucks also agreed to be a donation site for her project.

In terms of expected donations, Venkatesan set the bar high. She hopes to collect at least 500 bags. To date, she has collected more than 50.

“The community, my family and friends have been extremely supportive,” Venkatesan said.

From the start, Venkatesan has headed her project with little assistance. She handcrafted the donation boxes, she created her own logo for “Bags for Benefit,” and she arranged meetings with the various businesses and libraries.

“We are thrilled that she thinks in this direction at such an early age and does it on her own,” Indra said.

Studio 2C, a dance studio on Hampton Roads Parkway, has agreed to assist with Venkatesan’s project at one of its showcase events, set for Aug. 27.

Attendees are being encouraged to bring bags to donate towards Venkatesan’s cause.

Venkatesan plans to keep her movement going for years to come.

“I want to keep this going every year for a long, long time until everyone in need is taken care of,” she said.

Venkatesan’s parents are proud of their daughter for taking the initiative to fulfill a community need.

“This really shows her character — she makes us proud every day,” Indra said.