Pack for a Purpose asks travelers to fill spare room in suitcase with supplies

South African students enjoy soccer balls donated in 2010 through Pack for a Purpose to Great Commission United, a nonprofit in Cape Town that organizes opportunities for recreation, as well as tutoring, mentoring, and other services.
South African students enjoy soccer balls donated in 2010 through Pack for a Purpose to Great Commission United, a nonprofit in Cape Town that organizes opportunities for recreation, as well as tutoring, mentoring, and other services. Courtesy of Pack for a Purpose

Taking an extra pair of heels on your Caribbean vacation might improve the experience incrementally, but using that same space to pack school supplies could make a world of difference to underprivileged kids.

Similar reasoning led Rebecca Rothney of Raleigh to found Pack for a Purpose, a nonprofit that matches travelers with the specific needs of agencies and individuals at destinations overseas and throughout the United States.

“I think of it as taking a hostess gift when you go visit someone – it’s about gratitude and thanking someone for their hospitality,” said Rothney, an avid traveler who has visited all seven continents and 47 countries.

Rothney and her husband, Scott, first visited Botswana in 2002. On a subsequent trip, after learning they’d have a chance to visit a local school, Rothney asked the safari company, Wilderness Safaris, what the school needed. They gave her a list and she filled the empty spaces in her suitcase with the needed supplies.

On another trip, the couple packed blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes for doctors at a local clinic.

“I was surprised that a clinic didn’t even have a stethoscope,” she recalls.

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What started out in 2009 as a small volunteer effort is now a 501(c)(3) that compiles lists of needs from communities around the world and offers travelers the opportunity to fill them.

Travelers who Pack for a Purpose are asked to reserve space in their luggage to take five pounds of needed items to their destination city. The items can be dropped off at participating accommodations and tour companies listed on the charity’s website, or delivered personally for a face-to-face experience, Rothney said.

Visitors to Costa Rica, for example, might pack antibacterial soap, sunblock or ibuprofen for the Community Aid Center in Las Suiza and leave it with Hotel Casa Turire, the participant supporting this project.

Cecily Guggisberg first heard about Pack for a Purpose several years ago when she and her mother went on an African trip and brought school supplies along in their luggage.

When it came time for Guggisberg’s bachelorette party in 2015, she and her three best friends planned a girls’ trip to Bali, where they took notebooks, backpacks, soccer balls and other items needed by a local middle school.

“We went to the dollar store with a list of the supplies they needed and got as much as we could,” said Guggisberg, who lives in Orlando, Fla. “We each took an extra suitcase to hold the items and gave them out at the school. It was really special.”

To participate as a traveler, go to packforapurpose.org and choose your destination. Each destination page features nonprofit agencies with specific needs as well as partner resorts and other businesses where donations can be dropped off.

Then find space in your luggage for the supplies you want to bring. Examples the website offers for what constitutes a five-pound delivery include 400 pencils or a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and 500 Band Aids or five deflated soccer balls and a small pump.

The donation will be tracked after drop off to ensure that it makes it to its intended destination.

Financial contributions also help Pack for a Purpose stay up-to-date with community needs and participating hotels in countries around the world, Rothney said.

“The little money we’ve gotten from donations has gone to register the web domain, obtain a trademark and hire some college interns at $10 an hour to help manage the website,” said Rothney.

“If we had a little bit of funding, there’s a lot more we could accomplish,” she said.

Pack for a Purpose

7604 The Pointe Raleigh, NC 27615


Contact: Rebecca Rothney, 919-844-9998

Description: Our mission is to positively impact communities around the world by assisting travelers who want to take meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit. The supply lists for destinations on our website are provided directly by the local community-based projects that receive and use the supplies.

Donations needed: Money to assist us in maintaining our website. Pack for a Purpose travelers have taken over 192,000 pounds of supplies meeting essential needs in over 60 countries.

Volunteers needed: Grant writers, marketing/PR planning, fundraising programs, data entry.

Minimum volunteer commitment: 4 hours/week.

$10 would buy: An hour of intern assistance.

$20 would buy: 2 hours of intern assistance.

$50 would buy: 5 hours of intern assistance.