With Covid-19 stealing our joy and keeping us from hugs and kisses for the most part, it’s nice to hear heartwarming news.

Ms. Chris’s Backpack Project for the homeless, that started long before the pandemic blindsided us, is a warm and fuzzy story indeed.

Chris Ziifle is this fireball of a lady, well known in Gretna for her years as the owner and gun packing mama at the Gretna Gun Shop. She and her husband, Ralph ran the business together for 66 years. After Ralph’s passing in 1983, she continued to run the company. Five years ago, she decided it was time to leave the gun business, so she sold the shop.

Everyone in the neighborhood knows the story of then 75 year-old Ms. Chris who holed up in the gun shop during Katrina, refusing to leave, protecting that the guns wouldn’t end up on the streets.

“A little over a year ago I had to re-quality for my gun carrying permit. I was a little concerned that I would not pass the shooting test, but was very pleased that I shot well. I can still take care of my little corner of the world,” she said.

Always heavily involved in the community, after retirement she devoted all of her time to serving the Gretna Food Bank, German-American Cultural Center and Gretna Historical Society, a board member at all.

Her newest project began back six months ago in December, on a day that Chris was on the job volunteering at the Gretna Food Bank. She noticed that many homeless people were coming in for badly needed help.

“I thought to myself that it would be really nice to go out and bring badly needed supplies to everyone that was homeless,” she said with a big emphasis on “everyone.”

Ms. Chris’s Backpack Project was born! 

There are “Angels” that help Chris with the project including Rosie Agee, Liz Larkins, Joan Brown, Adele “Sis” Pertuit and Gracie Arcement. They all help in different ways, some in all aspects of the project.

“We started with a collection of large purses and totes, but have since changed to backpacks which serve a much better purpose for the homeless. We make up the backpacks with items that men need or what women need.” 

 “Our Angels always ride around with backpacks in their cars, always at the ready. If they see somebody in need of help, they stop to help by sharing a backpack,” she said. “We are not as active out there during the pandemic, but it’s safe for our Angels, wearing a mask to hand a backpack out of a car window. We distribute on the Westbank, downtown New Orleans and on the Eastbank. Doesn’t matter where, if an Angel sees a person in need, it can be on the way to Baton Rouge and they will respond.

“Initially worthy people get a filled backpack, but later they can receive a simple bag of supplies to refill the highly recognized backpacks. If our Angels see a person on the street with one of our backpacks, they stop to replenish it, if needed.” 

The backpacks are filled with only NEW items that include: Socks, Caps, Gloves, Handkerchiefs, Wash Cloths, Hand Wipes, Toilet Paper, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Shaving Supplies, Soap, Lip Balm, Shampoo, Deodorant, Combs, Sunblock, Women’s Personal Hygiene Supplies and Hotel Samples.

Also added to the backpacks are Bottled Water, Packaged Snacks, Vienna Sausage, Potted Meat, Peanut Butter Crackers, but never food items that can melt like chocolate.

Every backpack also gets a $5 gift certificate from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King or other fast food places.

“Besides these items, anything new that you think a homeless person could use would be great. You may become our newest idea,” she said. 

For Mother’s Day, Chris was given 1,000 blue and pink backpack tags to designate bags for men or women. The tags read “Ms. Chris’ Backpack Project – “You Are Loved & Prayed For Daily.” Praying for the homeless is a big part of her daily life. 

The program has distributed 101 assorted bags as of May 1, with the new goal reset to 1,000 backpacks to match the tags!   

Besides Chris’ financial support, neighbors and friends have generously donated the money to fund the program. 

If they are not donated, the badly needed items to stuff the bags must be purchased, as are the backpacks themselves that cost $10 each, bought in quantity.

Chris’s latest idea to help with donations is to gift her pint size delicious homemade Sweet & Hot Pickles for a $10 donation.  

In order to drop off supplies, go to 618 3rd St. in Old Gretna and place in the box near the Children’s Little Library on the side of the building. Text 504.864.3660 to let Chris know to pick up the package.

To make a monetary donation, make check payable to Chris Ziifle and mail to 618 3rd St., Gretna, LA 70053 or just drop in the mail chute there.  

“We could use a few more Angels to help. It’s always lovely to meet new friends. I hope that beyond my time, the Backpack Program will continue,” said a smiling 90 year-old Chris Ziifle.  


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