By Dave Ficere

You see them everywhere, standing in the median of a busy roadway, holding up a sign asking for help. Men and women, sleeping in the park or pushing a shopping cart collecting cans and recyclables. And, the children who suffer the most.

These are the faces of the homeless in the Phoenix area. According to the Department of Economic Security’s Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report for 2013, one in every 230 Arizonans – more than 28,000 individuals – experienced homelessness in Arizona during the year. That represents an increase of nearly 13 percent from 2011.

Among the many trying to assist the homeless is H.E.L.P – Homeless Engagement Lift Partnership – whose goal is to assist by directly and indirectly providing aid and comfort to the homeless in the greater Phoenix area.

One of the ways they do this is by handing out backpacks filled with the daily essentials of toiletries, sunscreen, lip balm, baseball hats, and dental products. So far, they’ve been able to deliver more than 4,800 filled backpacks to a variety of organizations throughout the Valley, as well as directly to individuals in need.

Soon, H.E.L.P. will be launching their third annual toy drive. “There are over 1,200 children in foster and group homes and shelters of all kinds,” says Dawn Marie Rapaport, H.E.L.P. founder. “Our goal is to give a toy to every one of the 1,200 children.”

To participate in this year’s toy drive – which runs from November 5 through December 17 –

simply pick up a new toy and bring it, unwrapped, to one of two drop off locations in Phoenix: West USA Realty, 16807 N. Cave Creek Rd. or UPS, 625 W. Deer Valley Rd. In addition to the toy drive, Homelessness Awareness week runs November 15-23. For a $10 donation to H.E.L.P. during that week, you’re receive an Awareness T-shirt and help support the work of H.E.L.P. in the community. To find out more, contact Dawn Marie Rapaport at 602-341-3822 or email [email protected].