RIVERDALE -- Watching people help her brother during his greatest time of need sparked a desire in Barbara Elmer. Over the last several weeks, the Riverdale resident has been putting together hygiene kits for the homeless at St. Anne's Center.
"Regardless of why someone is homeless, they are vulnerable and in great need," she said.
"My brother was homeless for years. He has schizophrenia and was never properly diagnosed until recently. I know complete strangers helped him by buying him meals, clothes and giving him shelter. They were kind to someone that didn't act normal and could be scary to them."
Elmer said besides wanting to help those in the same situation as her brother, she wants to raise awareness that the homeless are more than just people wanting a handout.
"The biggest portion of the homeless are families and people with mental issues," she said. "I also feel we as a community are responsible for each other. We are all connected."
The hygiene kits Elmer put together include approximately 200 toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, cotton swabs, lotions and hairbrushes.
Elmer said she has more than 40 backpacks and bags to donate.
"I also have hats, gloves, socks, books, clothes, blankets, first-aid kits and shirts."
She had plenty of help from friends and local businesses, she said. One friend and her sons made and distributed 200 fliers to collect backpacks.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. has a severe mental illness.
Approximately 15,000 people in Utah are homeless, according to the latest figures.
Living in shelters or on the streets is difficult, even for a person whose brain is working normally. For those with schizophrenia or other mental illness, this kind of life is often a living hell, according to the Mental Illness Policy Organization.
"I feel it's important to know that the needs of the homeless are year-round and not just at holidays," Elmer said.
"I think everyone can help. It's important to teach people the value of human life. If we can raise more awareness, this could help address the needs of the homeless, not just the immediate need of food, shelter and clothing, but their mental health and well being."
Right now, St. Anne's Center, 137 W. Binford in Ogden, needs toothpaste, toilet paper, women's deodorant, disposable razors, high-efficiency laundry detergent, Clorox, Pine-Sol, Formula 409, seasonings, bacon, chicken, hamburger, hot dogs, sausage, lunch meat, turkey, sugar and large cans of fruit, vegetables, beans, milk and juice.