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Homelessness in America seems to be more visible. In nearly every large US city, you will find tents along highways, makeshift shelters made with tarps, and even people sleeping directly on the sidewalk with only a blanket for warmth. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness had been decreasing since 2007, but by 2017 it began increasing by 3 percent annually. On top of that, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has the potential to increase homelessness and return it to previous high levels.

There are so many reasons for someone to become homeless and millions of people are only one missed rent or mortgage payment away from losing their housing. How can we help when the problem seems so large?

There is a way for everyone to help alleviate suffering in their community from volunteering, collecting clothes, to donating money. The following stories are recent examples of outstanding acts of compassion from ordinary citizens. A seemingly small act of caring like providing a meal can improve someone’s situation, get them on their feet, and give hope for better days to come. It can be a long road to finding permanent housing and individuals need to be supported along the way.

-by Julie Showers

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Senior Citizen Knits Hats and Scarves for Homeless

“I started knitting and just kept going,” said Elaine, a resident of an assisted living center in Portland.

Elaine wanted to help support people struggling on the streets during the winter so did what she knows best–knit. She started in the summer, knitting a little every day. By October she had a grocery store brown bag full of handknit items. Unable to leave the care facility she asked a staffer to drop off the hand-knit scarves and hats at Blanchet House of Hospitality. They will be distributed to the homeless when they come for meals.

Clothing impacts how we think about ourselves. When you receive a new item of clothing you feel valued and loved.

“All of us could be in need too. The steps are not too far away really,” Elaine adds. “I want to help people down on their luck.”

You can collect, make, or purchase the following most needed items for people experiencing houselessness in your community.

  • Adult-sized raincoats and foldable ponchos.
  • Men’s underwear. All sizes (boxer briefs preferred.)
  • Women’s underwear. All sizes.
  • Men’s jeans. Sizes 30 – 34.
  • Men’s shoes. Sizes 10 – 12.
  • Sweatpants. All sizes.
  • Emergency blankets.
  • Sleeping bags.
  • Tents.
  • Backpacks.
  • Rolling suitcases.

We’ve also compiled an Amazon wish list and care kits containing other most needed items.

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Mother and Son Volunteer Together

“I call it ‘Wednesdays with Will,’ says Shannon, single mom to four. “We find joy through serving others together. And it’s a great reason to get out of the house during this time [COVID19] and make an impact.”

Mother and son started volunteering to serve meals, roll napkins, and plate food through the Young Men’s Service League. They love the time that they get to spend together. Will is a sophomore in high school so it’s special that he’s able to spend time with his mom away from the distraction of this phone, friends, and sports.

If you want to volunteer with your kids, call your local shelter or charity kitchen to find out how you can be of service. Families in Portland can sign up to volunteer here.

Most organizations require children to be at least 14-years-old to volunteer onsite but there are many service activities you can do from home like:

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Donations Keep the Lights On

People who have benefited from services offered by nonprofits rarely forget and often want to repay the kindness in some way. It’s not uncommon for meal guests of charity kitchens to offer change as a ‘thank you’ for food, even though it’s free. Being able to give back helps you achieve a greater sense of personal satisfaction and growth. It feels good to help others even when you need help yourself.

“My father was homeless for most of my life. My niece has been homeless too. It is our families that you are caring for. Thank you,” read a note along with a $100 donation to Blanchet House.

Monetary donations are critical to nonprofits’ ability to offer a safety net of services to our communities. We often forget about the infrastructure needed to serve hundreds of people daily. The upkeep on a building alone is costly with a mortgage, utilities, appliances, and staff to run it all. If we want to ensure that people needing help can find it we need to support charities in our communities. Charities serve everyone on the fringes of our communities with dignity because we all want our human dignity honored. Your support ensures everyone has someplace to turn when they fall on hard times.

Making a charitable gift to causes that are important to you shows your gratitude for the vital work they are doing. Nonprofits help build a happier and healthier world by improving the quality of life for those around us. When you give you also inspire others to give. One way to inspire your friends and family to support your favorite charity is to start a Facebook fundraiser.

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Chefs Give Back During Restaurant Closures

Everyone has a special skill to volunteer. Abel Ramirez was able to use his kitchen experience to benefit others while he was furloughed from his job. A cook at an award-winning restaurant in Portland, he was laid off for nearly six months during the restaurant’s temporary closure due to COVID-19 safety protocols limiting dine-in service. He found his way to a charity kitchen serving free meals to anyone in need. Dozens of other out-of-work kitchen staff, like Devon Malone, we’re also volunteering their time while.

“I’m thankful that I was able to find a way to be helpful,” says Malone. “Volunteering has been a very positive experience.”

Ramirez and fellow chefs showed up daily to cook and prep hundreds of hot meals to serve to homeless and food-insecure neighbors. Charity kitchens are always in need of volunteers to help prep, plate and serve food. Contact your local soup kitchen to ask how you can help in the kitchen.

Read more stories about people helping in the ways they can.

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