‘We need more Austins in the world’

Facing the upcoming school year, 4-year-old Austin LeConey donates 67 backpacks to Unforgotten Haven for children in need

Friends of Mullica Hill student Austin LeConey, 4, donated a total of 67 backpacks, filled with school supplies, to Sicklerville non-profit Unforgotten Haven for kids in need, almost tripling his donation of 24 last year.

As summer comes to an end, children and their families begin to prepare for another school year. As a summer service project, Friends School of Mullica Hill PreK2 student Austin LeConey, 4, and his parents collected backpacks and school supplies for those who may be in need.

For the second consecutive year, Austin donated 67 backpacks, almost tripling last year’s donation of 24, to Unforgotten Haven, a nonprofit located in Gloucester Township focused on providing for the “homeless and unfortunate.”

Austin’s mom Meredith LeConey said they began collecting donations in July, and were excited to see how many people generously gave to help local students in need. According to Austin, the backpacks, filled with school supplies such as pencils, crayons, markers, scissors and glue, were given to him from neighbors, family and friends.

“He played a good part this year reaching out to people, asking for donations, and that’s one of the things we love about this school,” LeConey said. “They really do take time with the kids to instill a sense of community and giving back.”

Austin said his hope is for children who receive the donations to “feel happy” and “have them forever.” Next year, he said, he hopes to collect at least 100 backpacks for families less fortunate.

“We’ve had an amazing outpouring of people reaching out telling us we’ve inspired them to get their own kids involved in community service, which is exactly what we wanted,” LeConey said. “Children are never too young to get started. If we start instilling these values in them now, we may be helping now, but eventually they’ll be doing it themselves.”

According to LeConey, she and her husband Joe are trying to teach Austin the importance of sharing, spreading kindness and making others feel good.

“It’s easy for both parents and kids to get caught up today in all of the things we have and to take for granted not everybody has the same things, not everybody has the same opportunities,” LeConey said. “We’re trying to instill in him now, at a young age, the importance of recognizing that the blessing and gifts we have are not necessarily things everyone has, and we have to make sure we are taking care of people and supporting our community.”

Austin LeConey, 4, stands with the 67 backpacks he donated to children in need this year. Photo courtesy of Meredith LeConey.

Unforgotten Haven Founder Michele Gambone said the organization distributed the backpacks to schools, shelters and churches on Sunday, Aug 20, at St. Charles Borromeo Church where more than 800 volunteers came together to assemble backpacks for the upcoming school year. Gambone said instead of having families go directly to Unforgotten Haven, the schools, churches and shelters helped at the event and took the donations with them directly to those in need. At the time, there were 6,400 backpacks promised with a waiting list of 5,000.

“It’s really amazing to see a child of his age doing something like this,” Gambone said. “When you see children giving back to other children and the community, it has a lot more meaning. We need more Austins in the world.”