A photo of Jenna Burleigh stands next to a small pile of flowers laid by attendees at a vigil in Founder’s Garden in September 2017. Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation, an organization created in memory of Burleigh, will hold a fundraiser on campus as spring semester classes start. | MARISSA HOWE / THE TEMPLE NEWS
Smart. Passionate. Bubbly. Free-spirited. Thoughtful. Big-hearted.
These adjectives fill the pages of a scrapbook Jenna Burleigh’s friends gave to her parents last Nov. 4 — what would have been the transfer junior film and media arts major’s 24th birthday. The words are nestled among photos of Jenna Burleigh smiling with friends and a letter detailing how Jenna Burleigh impacted her friends’ lives.
Amid Joshua Hupperterz’s trial for allegedly murdering Jenna Burleigh in August 2017, Jenna Burleigh’s friends and family are working with Temple University to honor the ways she cared for others. Jenna Burleigh was known for giving “blessing bags” to people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. They were filled with supplies like toiletries, blankets and sleeping bags.
Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation, a nonprofit Jenna Burleigh’s parents Ed and Jaqui Burleigh launched in memory of their daughter to distribute these blessing bags, will hold a fundraiser in the Student Center on Wednesday and Jan. 23 and 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Donation tables will be set up in the atrium with help from the Interfaith Council and the student organization Swipes for Philadelphia.
“She was the person who would look to somebody who needed a friend and she was there to be that person’s friend if they needed it,” said senior psychology major Shaylyne Nolan, who became friends with Jenna Burleigh while the two attended Souderton Area High School in Montgomery County. “She didn’t care who you were, what you looked like, all that stuff, she just wanted to be everybody’s friend and make everybody feel included. And she did that. She actually did it.”
Ed and Jaqui Burleigh created the foundation in September 2017, days after Jenna Burleigh was killed.
Janelle Burleigh, Jenna Burleigh’s older sister, said their parents started the organization to continue a project Jenna Burleigh cared about.
“It was something that she was passionate about, and she definitely wanted to help people,” Janelle Burleigh said. “So they just thought that in order to keep her spirit alive and her name out there we would start the foundation and keep her mission going.”
Friends and family, who have attended the trial, remember Jenna Burleigh for her passion for social activism. She participated in the Women’s March on Philadelphia and spoke out about LGBTQ rights and the stigma on mental health.
“She definitely was super passionate about equality for everyone and just treating everyone how you’d want to be treated,” Janelle Burleigh said. “She cared about everyone and was just really accepting of anyone, whatever situation they were in in their life. She was just always wanting to help as many people as she could.”
The Temple community was no stranger to Jenna Burleigh’s kindness.
“Even though [Jenna] was a new student to Temple, I think the impact has been felt more deeply than just the short time that she was on campus,” said Chris Carey, the senior associate dean of students who helped organize the fundraiser.
Ed Burleigh wanted to have people handing out the blessing bags throughout Hupperterz’s trial, Nolan said. As she spent the week attending the trial and wasn’t able to help distribute the bags, Nolan felt this was the perfect time to organize a Jenna’s Blessing Bags fundraiser on Main Campus.
“I wanted to do the fundraiser around the same time as the trial just to be able to get students involved because I know a lot of Temple students were actually really affected by her passing,” Nolan said.
Jenna Burleigh’s friends and family have distributed 60 blessing bags during the trial, Janelle Burleigh said.
“We just didn’t want everything to be focused on the negatives,” she added. “We wanted to contribute something positive for the community, especially this week, but whenever we can.”
Nolan said Jenna Burleigh loved giving to other people, and handing out blessing bags was something she did often. Jenna Burleigh once organized a fundraiser for her aunt’s grade school class and got each student to make a bag, Nolan remembered. She distributed the bags to people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia with her parents for Christmas.
Jenna Burleigh kept the blessing bags going year round. She distributed bags during summer when other people might think people experiencing homelessness have fewer needs, Nolan said.
“She didn’t have a lot of money, but she had enough money to create two bags and so she did,” Nolan added. “She took those bags to Philadelphia and gave them to two people in need, which doesn’t really sound like that much, but if you really think about it, that’s a very caring thing to do. To spend your last money even though you didn’t have that much to give.”
Jenna Burleigh’s caring spirit extended to others in her life, too. Nolan said that since Jenna Burleigh died, several people who knew her have told Nolan and Jenna Burleigh’s family stories of how Jenna Burleigh impacted their lives.
“Jenna just really loved everybody,” Nolan added. “She was such a great, happy person.”
For Janelle Burleigh, the Temple fundraiser is an event her sister would have been happy to see.
“Because she was a student there, its just something that’s really nice that people are donating to and everyone’s really been super supportive and super helpful within our community and [the] Temple community,” she said.
Students can donate supplies for the blessing bags at the fundraiser, or donate money directly to Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation.
“Keeping her name alive and doing good in the world is just what she would have wanted,” Nolan said.