In March 2015, Rick Clark was 44. He didn’t have a job or a car. He lived in a trailer in Medical Lake, a small town outside Spokane. He was behind on his rent and his electricity had been shut off. Rick remembers those days as the lowest point in his life.

“I remember standing up and literally saying out loud, ‘I’m not going out like this,’” he recalls.

That day, Rick decided to do something different. He took the long bus ride into Spokane to apply at Spokane Community College to begin his education again, after dropping out of high school in tenth grade.

On the way, Rick had to transfer busses at Spokane’s downtown bus plaza. He saw a homeless man, someone he’d seen downtown several times before. Rick decided to do something else different that day: he put aside all the “stuff” he was dealing with, and made the decision to connect.

“Something inside me told me to talk to this man, instead of ignoring him and walking by, like I’d done before,” Rick says.

The man’s name was Jared, and he told Rick that he had been robbed of his backpack the night before, while sleeping on the streets. The thieves had even taken his shoes. Rick bought Jared some snacks with his last $8 and promised him that they would meet up again in 2 days, and Rick would bring him a backpack filled with necessities to replace what he had lost.


That night, Rick posted on Facebook, asking friends for help to fill a backpack to meet Jared’s needs. A day later, the request had been shared over 500 times, and Rick had received donations enough to fill 25 backpacks. Giving Back Packs was born that day, and Rick and other volunteers, with the help of community donations and support, have handed out more than 3,700 full backpacks since then.

“When I go out in the street, I can talk to people and tell them, ‘I was right where you’re at,’” Rick says. “When I tell people my story, I can see in their eyes that they understand and, for that moment, their struggles aren’t defining who they are as a person.” The core of Giving Back Packs is connecting people and showing each person that they matter, even if it feels like society has forgotten them.

Giving Back Packs became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2018. They are now able to assist with larger needs, such as bus passes, work gear, and occasional larger items. Rick graduated from Spokane Community College and then attended Gonzaga University, graduating in June 2019. He was recently honored as one of Spokane’s emerging philanthropists. Rick continues to share his story and to hand out backpacks, in the hope that others will choose to do something different and reach out and connect with people around them who are in need, rather than looking away.

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More Interviews With Rick

Student creates nonprofit which gives hope to the homeless, Gonzaga Bulletin, Nov 29, 2018.
How backpacks and a bus ride changed Rick Clark’s life, Spokesman Review, Dec 24, 2017.