In a Nutshell: Hundreds of millions of people take vacations every year without realizing the effects of poverty in the areas they visit. Schools in these destinations often lack basic supplies, like rulers and chalk, and area clinics will have no stethoscopes or antibiotic ointment. Rebecca Rothney’s Pack for a Purpose nonprofit has enabled travelers over the last eight years to donate nearly 250,000 pounds of supplies to community-based organizations in popular global destinations. The nonprofit’s website lists accommodations — from 5-star hotels to hostels— that partner with community projects to post a list of needs on the site. Visitors can choose items from the list to pack then donate them at the accommodation’s drop-off point for delivery to the intended recipient.
I’ve always loved old movies. While other kids watched cartoons, I followed the adventures of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’m still fascinated by the flickering black-and-white glimpse into yesterday’s America.
Many of these films feature the stereotypical dinner party — where guests come in and give their coats and hats to someone at the door and carry a large container of food as a gift for the hostess.
Although so much has changed over the last 60 years in America, a few organizations are working to retain some of the traditions that were once commonplace in our society.
When was the last time you brought someone a gift for their hospitality? What if the gift was for someone you didn’t know and likely would never see?
Rebecca Rothney’s mother taught her from an early age to always bring a hostess gift to show gratitude for any invitations she accepted — from a dinner party to an overnight stay. When she and her husband took one of their several trips to Africa in 2002, those lessons led to a life-changing experience and became the inspiration for her nonprofit Pack for a Purpose.
On their second trip to Botswana in 2002, Rebecca and her husband had an opportunity to visit a school. From their first trip to Africa, they knew they had a much larger luggage allowance flying over the ocean than they could use going forward once they landed in Africa. They decided to use their large luggage allowance to take supplies for the school they would visit.
“There was no way I was going to waste 200 pounds of free shipping,” Rothney said.
Over the years, the Rothneys have visited Botswana six times, Zambia twice, and have taken trips to Tanzania and Kenya. Each time, they’ve brought along a hostess gift in the form of much-needed supplies for local clinics, schools, and orphanages. The idea appealed to more travelers soon after Rothney began Pack for a Purpose, a volunteer-run organization that’s led to more than 223,000 pounds of donated supplies in 8 years.
“The inspiration for the website was my following up on my mother’s belief that you never go anywhere without taking the host a gift,” Rothney said. “If you’re going for a meal, or to spend the night, you always want to be able to express gratitude for someone’s hospitality. Even if they’re richer than you, you still bring a gift because it has nothing to do with wealth and poverty and everything to do with gratitude.”
Drop Off Gifts at Designated Delivery Locations
Popular accommodations and tour companies in destinations around the world partner with Pack for a Purpose to help collect donated supplies for community-based service providers. Each accommodation — which can range from a 5-star hotel to a safari camp — works with area service providers to maintain a list of the items their organizations need.
Pack for a Purpose started with 29 locations in 10 countries and now lists more than 430 locations in over 60 countries. Travelers can drop off their donations at the destination, which will handle the delivery of all items.
“We’re committed to making sure travelers can express gratitude and graciousness by bringing the perfect hostess gift — not what you think they’d like, but what you know they need,” Rothney said. “You can bring a beautiful bouquet of flowers to a hostess only to find out they have allergies. We’ve eliminated that issue for you.”
Rothney said many of the requested items seem basic, but surprisingly aren’t available in rural areas — these include stethoscopes for clinics and chalk for schools.
The Rothneys once visited a school in Botswana, taking supplies that included many items the school did not have.
“There wasn’t a ruler in the school,” she said. “I thought the principal was going to cry when she saw we brought metric rulers.”
The organizations curate their need lists and change them as required. Every four months, participants must report the weight of supplies they’ve received for transparency. Travelers can simply choose an item — or items — from the list, pack them in their suitcase, and drop them off at their destination.
“These things don’t have to be big or expensive,” Rothney said. “One 3-ounce tube of antibiotic cream costs less than $10 and will keep 30 children from getting an infection from a scrape.”
Rothney noted that many airlines have changed their carry-on luggage rules in recent years, making it harder to pack larger donations. But most people leave some empty room in their suitcases for eventual souvenir purchases. Even the smallest gift for your host area can fit in that space.
“If you can’t bring 5 pounds, then just bring 1 pound,” Rothney said. “Whatever you do is an expression of gratitude and will always be welcomed, appreciated, and acknowledged.”
Organizations Include Schools, Clinics, and Animal Shelters
Rothney was a teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina, until she was 40. Her classroom experience gave her plenty of empathy for schools with limited supplies.
Prior to her first donation to the school in Botswana, Rothney called on her friends and community to pitch in for the worthy cause.
“I used to have to beg for supplies for the children I taught because the budget allocation was absurd,” she said. “I knew that if I had to beg for supplies, the school we were going to visit must need supplies, too.
“I got a list of what the school needed and told all of my friends to give up just one coffee that week and use the money to buy something from the list,” she said. “We ended up sending 140 pounds of supplies to Botswana.”
Some supplies are available for purchase in the destination — and are notated as such on the list —which avoids packing the items and taking them through customs. Rothney found that many of those items are things Americans take for granted.
“Knowing how popular soccer is in Africa, we took several soccer balls with us for the school,” she said. “When we arrived, we saw a few children outside the school playing soccer with a ball of rags tied up in plastic.”
Over their several trips, the Rothneys also brought clothes for orphanages that housed children during the outbreak of AIDS in Africa. They also brought medical supplies for clinics in Kenya.
Make Your Trip Go Farther than the Miles You Travel
Travelers around the world use Pack for a Purpose to find the perfect hostess gift for the area they’re visiting. No matter the size or price of the gift, anything listed on the provider’s needs list will change lives.
For Rothney, the organization has been a labor of love and proof that people can accomplish anything with the proper help.
“Nine years ago, I made my husband type my emails because I hate computers,” she said. “He just laughed at me when I declared I was going to start a global nonprofit on the internet. Thankfully, I knew people who had the skills I didn’t have and who loved my homemade mint chocolate chip cookies.”
Whether it be cookies, rulers, or antibiotic cream, Pack for a Purpose has proven that a little gift can go a long way.
“No matter what you’re doing, gratitude always enhances everything,” Rothney said. “This could be your vacation, your honeymoon, or your business trip — but, if you just do this one thing and then go about the rest of your trip as you please, it’ll be that much better.”