Joshua Trimm wore a backpack Saturday afternoon as he led a small group, including someone dressed in a panda bear costume and a small child carrying a big sign.
It read, “Smile,” and was adorned with a hand-drawn heart and a smiling mouth.
They left a church parking lot across Central Avenue from the Cortland County Office Building in Cortland, marched through nearby Courthouse Park and headed into the streets of downtown to spread the word.
They returned a short time later to the parking lot, which was lined with tables covered with backpacks, clothing and other items. This was the focus of their day’s mission.
What started as a conversation among family and friends on how to help other people culminated in the event to distribute backpacks stuffed with personal hygiene supplies, blankets and items.
The need is apparent in the numbers: Cortland County has 1,300 fewer jobs today than it did a year ago, a 6.7% decline. A mobile food pantry sponsored by the Food Bank of Central New York more than doubled its contributions in 2020 to 1 million pounds, and other food programs report similar increases.
Warna Spraker, owner of Trinkets N More at 130 Main St., Cortland, said she was among those who donated items to the event.
“We are trying to help the people who need it,” Spraker said.
About 200 backpacks had been filled and only about 20 had been taken Saturday.
“We’ve had quite a few people stop by,” Spraker said. “This afternoon, there haven’t been too many.”
While many of the items were left over, some will be donated to the Aid to Victims of Violence program at the Cortland YWCA and other organizations.
The organizers of Saturday’s event said they will continue their efforts and have another event in the late summer or fall to help people before winter sets in.
“This is the test run,” Trimm said. “We want to find out how to run it better.”
He said the need in the community is widespread.
“We sit around and think of what we can do to help people,” he said. “It’s just community helping community.”
Trimm said many businesses, organizations and individuals contributed.
He said he turned his life around after a troubled youth, including alcohol abuse and living out of a car for a time, and hopes the give-away will help others in need.
Destany Widger of Cortland and her neighbor, Tae Recor, came upon the event as they passed by Saturday and stopped to see what was going on. They each picked up a backpack and a few other items.
“It’s going to help a lot,” Widger said. “A lot of people need help. I have to work for everything I have.”