Early one evening, during a visit with friends in December 2014, I was in downtown San Francisco to lend my support to the Ferguson protests that were taking place. The scene I found myself in was incredibly discouraging. There was a palpable feeling of anger and deep conflict, signs with hostile words and an over abundance of police. Among the chaos and indignity, I couldn’t help but notice that nobody appeared to be reaching out to the homeless people that were quietly existing in the uproar.
As a kid growing up just outside D.C. and in every city I have lived in or visited since, I have always been compelled to visit with and check in with the homeless population. This night was no different. I was sharing some videos on my phone with a homeless friend when an idea came to me. “If I were to come back here with a bag of things that you might need, what would be in it?” I asked. He looked at me, paused, smiled and said “Girl, no one has ever asked me that question before.
He then dictated a list of simple but critical things that almost anyone who was homeless would value, things that most of us don’t even think about but would be sorely missed were they to suddenly become unavailable. These items remain at the core of our donation list almost 2 years later.
On the walk back home that night I popped into local stores, explained what I wanted to do, and to my surprise, was able to collect donations almost immediately. I also approached more homeless friends with the same question and began to flesh out the original list. The serendipity continued. A close friend I was staying with, shared my compassion for the homeless and was immediately on board, when I shared my new idea and list with her. Together we continued to brainstorm and gathered the items on our list by approaching local stores for more donations. With these generous donations and some of our own money we were able assemble 50 care packages. We included heart signs, a stark juxtaposition to the angry and combative signs of the protest, as a reminder for people to lead with their hearts, fresh fruit, energy bars, new socks and undershirts, beanies, gloves, cough drops, bottled water and homemade cookies.
Our very first distribution proved to be an amazing adventure and a life changing event. Mostly, we were met with gratitude, incredibly memorable exchanges and a clear message that this was a meaningful and effective way to reach out to our homeless community.
In the weeks following the first distribution a seemingly endless flow of additional ideas inspired me to continue this movement. The rest is the history of the past two years.