15/12/2018 06:00 GMT | Updated 27/12/2018 11:17 GMT

Santa In The Making: 8-Year-Old Fills Backpacks With Warm Essentials For 100s Of Homeless People

HumanKind Advent Calendar 2018: "When mummy said sometimes people don’t have families or friends to help them, I wanted to do something."

HuffPost UK

HuffPost: HumanKind brings you an advent calendar of kindness, celebrating good deeds and the people doing them, in order to inspire and bring hope this festive season. Find out more about the series, and uncover new stories daily here.

“I saw some homeless people taking shelter in scaffolding and it really made me worry about whether they were going to survive, because it looked so dangerous,” eight-year-old Jacob Rabi-Laleh tells HuffPost UK. “It was cold, so I asked mummy if they’d have anywhere to go. When she said that sometimes people don’t have families or friends to help them, I decided I wanted to help.”

Jacob, from Maldon, Essex, isn’t your average eight-year-old. In October 2017 when he walked past homeless people in a shelter in Brighton, he couldn’t get them out of his mind. So when he went home that night, Jacob got out his pens and paper, and created a poster asking for people to donate items of warm clothing.

Initially, Jacob’s aim was to fill 10 backpacks with warm clothes to give to the people he saw. A year on, he’s filled hundreds of bags for homeless people and aimed to fill another few hundred in the run up to Christmas 2018. “I just think it is so important to be kind,” he says. 

[Read more: HuffPost’s kindness advent calendar will inspire you this Christmas – actor Michael Sheen explains why it’s so important]

Jacob Rabi-Laleh. 

In the space of a week, Jacob received enough warm clothing to fill around eight backpacks, but his mum Stephanie Bannister, 29, says she realised the project was going to be far bigger than they initially thought, after the story was featured by local media. “We were inundated with donations after Jacob hit the news,” says Stephanie. They named the project ‘Jacob’s Backpack Campaign’.

The eight-year-old used all avenues to get clothing and essentials for homeless people. “We drove around collecting donated items, then I put on a garage sale to help raise funds to buy things like wash kits and underwear,” he says. “And I did a food collection drive outside my local supermarket. We shared a GoFundMe page everywhere for people to donate more.”

In total, Jacob and his mum managed to collect enough items and GoFundMe donations for 138 adult backpacks and 60 children’s backpacks. Jacob wanted to kit out each backpack with everything he could to help make people’s time on the streets that little bit more comfortable.

They include toiletries, energy bars and tins of food, a sleeping bag, blanket, thermal clothes, underwear, hot drinks kit, thermal flasks, a torch – and a key ring with a quote from Jacob: “Sometimes sunshine is nearer than you think.”

Jacob with hundreds of backpacks he had managed to fill through his campaign. 

Stephanie sent the full backpacks to local day centres and night shelters, who distributed them to people on the streets through their own outreach workers, while she and Jacob also took out a small number themselves. “All of them were handed out by the time the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived earlier this year,” says Stephanie.

Following the success of the initial campaign, Jacob set himself a Christmas 2018 target: “I’d love to fill up 200 adult backpacks this year,” he says. “The supplies in these bags could save someone’s life, and who wouldn’t want to save lives?”

While working on the project with her son, Stephanie has realised there are a lot of people on the streets that can’t access or don’t qualify for help from shelters. “Those people are the most vulnerable,” she says. “Smaller organisations like Jacob’s are the lifeline for these people.”

As they’ve continued with Jacob’s Backpack Campaign, the mother-son duo  now use a mixture of gifted items and those they purchase from cash donations to fill the backpacks. “The items that get donated differ immensely so we could have 30 jumpers but only 20 hats and scarves,” explains Stephanie. “So we come up with a total target depending on how many of each secondhand item we have, and purchase more of everything else to make the items equal, before packing the backpacks.”

Jacob is doing everything he can to make his target by the end of the year - he had a garage sale on 4 November and managed to raise £247.20. And he has high hopes for the future: “When I am 10 I would like to have 1,000 backpacks filled and handed out to the homeless.”

People can help out in a variety of ways: spreading Jacob’s story to raise awareness of what he’s trying to do; visiting the GoFundMe page; or buying something from Jacob’s Amazon wish list. “It is absolutely incredible to see how generous people can be,” adds Jacob. “It’s so simple to be kind; homeless people are just humans with a lot of bad luck.”

You can follow Jacob’s journey on Facebook and Instagram.

HumanKind is HuffPost’s celebration of kindness, featuring people who do incredible things for others or the planet – transforming lives through small but significant acts. Get involved by joining us on Facebook. You can also nominate those who deserve to be shouted about by filling in this form or emailing natasha.hinde@huffpost.com.