Winter Clothing Drive: Seattle, WA
The issue of homelessness in Seattle has reached a level of crisis, with an estimated 5,000 people living on the streets and in tents under the bridges. The Seattle Young Adults (YA) tried to learn firsthand what they could do to help, by visiting people living in tents under bridges and the community center near the encampments. They also connected with the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle, which provides temporary shelter, recovery services, counseling services, food and hygiene care to the homeless in the area.
The YAs decided to embark on a winter essentials and clothing drive. They spread the word at their Sai Centers, their workplaces and neighborhoods, and in 10 days, they collected almost 400 items - jackets, sweaters, gloves, caps, scarves, socks, blankets, sleeping bags and reusable water bottles. The YAs also baked cookies, collected granola bars for snacks and arranged for hot water, hot chocolate, apple cider and tea to offer as a warm beverage. They organized the clothing and loaded them into mini-vans to take to the Union Gospel Mission.
The day for distribution arrived. About 20 YA volunteers split into two groups. One group took the sleeping bags, jackets, snacks, water bottles and warm beverages in a SUV to a large encampment to distribute directly to the homeless living in tents. The second group set up a “clothing store “at the Union Gospel Mission so that each homeless person could pick up one to two items that they needed. The shelter helped facilitate the process to make sure it went smoothly without any incident, and that everyone got at least one item. At the end, the YAs were able to serve around a hundred homeless people.
The YAs felt joy as they planned and executed the service project, but it was nothing compared to the humbling lessons on giving they learned from some of the homeless people they met. One YA recounted. “One gentleman approached a rack of clothes, so excited that he was finally able to have a new warmer jacket. He picked a jacket that fit him well and then took off his old jacket to give to us, because he had everything he needed to stay warm and felt maybe his jacket could help someone else get through the winter.” Another thing that touched the YAs was the kindness of the younger adults living at the encampment who carried and took snacks and blankets for the disabled homeless who couldn’t come to the SUV to collect their items.
These incidents gave the volunteers a lot to reflect on:
“We were touched by the spirit of giving and compassion within the community of homeless people who had so little to give and were living in such harsh conditions. We expected tension between people trying to claim their items, signs of violence and drug abuse - things we were told and read about in our research. Instead we saw generosity, compassion and a sense of community. They taught us an important lesson in the joy of sharing and caring even in the most dire of circumstances .”