Sgt. Brett D’Alessandro, United States Marine Corps.
Backpacks for Life
After serving from 2010 to 2016, including deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sgt. Brett D’Alessandro noticed a gap in support available to military Veterans and their spouses. In an effort to help, the NJ native created Backpacks For Life, a nonprofit that serves the homeless and at-risk Veteran community by preparing and distributing thousands of backpacks that include everything a person would need on their backs while they continue to strive to get back on their feet. Especially in these times when so many are struggling, Sgt. D’Alessandro’s creation is more vital than ever!
What does your company do?
Backpacks For Life is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that serves the homeless and at-risk Veteran community. We distribute backpacks to homeless Veterans and, after finding that there weren’t backpacks that fit the needs of our homeless Veterans just right, we developed one! The Bowery Pack is a patent-pending backpack designed by our team and engineered with various safety and security materials to help our Veterans living on the streets and in shelters.
Additionally, we provide mentorship to Veterans and spouses to help them find care, programs and resources that fit their unique needs. During COVID-19, we have pivoted to support those protecting our front lines. With an abundance of resources and a network of domestically-sourced materials from making our backpack, we have sourced proper materials to make upwards of 150,000 masks which we’re producing in conjunction with United States Manufacturing Corporation, which is a Veteran owned cut & sew manufacturing facility. We’ve even launched a campaign to support the funding of the project here: www.tinyurl.com/masksforheroes
What prompted you to launch it?
When I returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan in 2014, it was tough to reintegrate into society while dealing with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. One day, while on my way into a Naval Hospital for a doctor’s appointment, I saw a Veteran on the side of the road holding a sign that read ‘Homeless Veteran, Please Help’. I didn’t know what else to do but return to my hotel, grab my backpack from deployment, fill it with t-shirts, socks and warming layers, and give it to him. From there, Backpacks For Life was born!
How has your military life educated and influenced your business life?
The military teaches you about integrity, never giving up, and shows you not what an individual can do, but what a community can do. The military taught me how to be a leader but also be humble. There’s a lot of little sayings like “perception is reality” and ”what you put in is what you get” and “when you say something, you follow through with it.” All of these things have been applicable in business.
What do you hope to do with your business?
We hope to continue reaching more Veterans, distributing more backpacks, and optimizing the process Veterans have to go through to navigate the various resources & programs available to them.
What advice would you give other Veterans looking to own a business?
Start small, make small mistakes. Crawl before you walk. Always ask “why?” a million times before you start any business venture. Continue to make contacts, network, get out there and don’t underestimate the power of who you know. Lean on them when you need it!
What is the most important thing you want people to know about Veterans?
Veterans are always out there looking to help other Veterans. We are constantly looking out for the people in our community. We are straight shooters (no pun intended) and we always do our best to adapt and overcome. We will give you the shirt off our back and continue to think outside the box. In just three weeks, my team and another Veteran-owned business came together and started mass producing BFE95 certified masks right here in NJ with domestically-sourced materials. Working with other Veteran owned businesses makes you that much stronger!