Students create emergency preparedness backpacks

by Maddi Dolan

As February is coming to an end and the inevitable hurricane season is growing closer, four University of Tampa students in the President’s Leadership Fellows program have been working on creating hurricane emergency preparedness backpacks for local communities in need. 

Their efforts began last semester when they were asked to create a sustainable change in the Tampa Bay area. Mary Martinasek, assistant dean of natural and health sciences, and MaryAnn D’Alesandro, assistant professor of nursing, brought the project to the group’s attention because they both saw a need in the community. They received a grant from the Board of Fellows at UT and their plans took off from there. 

We jumped at the chance because we had all experienced Hurricane Irma and wanted to be sure that our community members could feel secure and safe in any emergency,” said Sydney Naegle, junior human performance and exercise physiology double major and member of the President’s Leadership Fellows program.

With the grant they received, they were able to purchase 500 backpacks to fill with necessary items for emergencies. The next step is raising enough money to purchase items for the backpacks. The group started a GoFundMe page which has raised around $200 so far, but they are in need of much more. 

“We developed a prototype including everything we would like to put in the bag to come up with a total cost,” said Marissa Henderson, junior public health major concentrated in behavioral health, and member of the President’s Leadership Fellows program. “Each backpack will have $7.60 worth of items inside.”

They are in need of $3,800 to fill all 500 backpacks. The items they plan to put in each backpack include a flashlight, portable charger, first aid kit, hand sanitizer, water bottle, toothbrush, toothpaste, whistle, waterproof document holder, Ziploc bags, waterproof matches and non-perishable foods. 

Henderson said most of the items they wish to put in the backpacks can be bought in bulk for a cheaper price to keep costs down. The group is also looking for donors in the community to contribute, creating restaurant fundraisers and using other online platforms. They have also reached out to local businesses to help sponsor the bags. 

Naegle said each backpack will include a laminated flyer with a photo of each item inside to create a universal understanding of what everything is. The flyer will also include Tampa Emergency contact numbers.

“We wanted to have little pictures on the flyer for people who might not speak English or for people that don’t know how to read. Whatever the case may be, they will have that to look off of and understand,” said Henderson. 

Right now they are in the early stages of figuring out how to distribute the backpacks in the community once they are stocked with the necessary items. They have plans to distribute them to disadvantaged community members in places like homeless shelters and public health fairs. 

“We want to give the backpacks to those that may be limited in some way that prevents them from having an adequately stocked kit,” said Naegle. “Everyone deserves to feel secure in an emergency.”

Distributing the initial 500 backpacks is just the beginning for them. The team is working on making this sustainable in Tampa. They want to grow this project in the future and have others take it over once they graduate next year. 

“We want this to be sustainable,” Henderson said. “We hope one of the younger cohorts in our program will take this over for us or have another organization on campus take it over so more and more bags will be made in the future.”

The group hopes to have the 500 bags filled and distributed to local communities by the end of this semester in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season. These emergency preparedness backpacks will take the stress off the shoulders of those in need during a vulnerable time. 

“The backpacks can help people be prepared in the event of a disaster,” said Briana Nieves, junior cybersecurity major and member of the President’s Leadership Fellows program. “People won’t have to worry about going out and getting a ton of items, they’ll have everything together to make their lives easier during a difficult time.”

Donate to this effort at

Maddi Dolan can be reached at

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