On Helping Others

I read an article from CNN on a Californian veterinarian who treats the pets of the homeless for free. I sent the article to my dad because we’d been talking about unconditional love on the drive home from dinner the other day, when we saw a homeless man and a dog crossing the street. The dog looked to his owner before crossing, during, and after. He didn’t stray more than a foot or two from the man. It was amazing to see the loyalty they had in one another.

Humans are social creatures by nature, and dogs are pack animals, so it makes sense to me that the two would stick together out on the streets. Dogs are, after all, man’s best friend.

Reading the article got me thinking about what I perceive other people need. I learned a lot about homelessness when volunteering in San Francisco, and my mom has taught me a lot through her involvement with Room at the Inn. If I were to pack a ziplock bag with things to give to someone living on the streets, I would pack a water bottle, granola bars or trail mix, socks, bandaids, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer or Lysol wipes. I’d pack that bag thinking of someone that functions like I would function: a mouth full of good teeth, conscious of my need for protein and carbs throughout the day, and always cold (hence the socks).

That’s not the reality of most homeless people. They don’t have access to good dental care. Some of them have never been to a dentist in their lives. If you don’t have good teeth, eating crunchy food is painful. And here I was, thinking that a granola bar or trail mix would be the best option for someone because of its fat to carbs to protein ratio.

Maybe bandaids and sunscreen would be helpful, but it’s barely even a dent into the medical care they actually need. As for socks? I hadn’t even thought about cotton versus wool.

Another thing I hadn’t taken into account is the need for companionship. I had seen people living on the streets with animals, most commonly dogs, but it never occurred to me to help them while helping their owners. Kwane Stewart, the veterinarian from California, saw and met this need when he set up a table at a soup kitchen after the 2008 economic recession. His mission is to keep people with their pets, rather than separate them and put the pet in a shelter.

For myself, something I need to work on when volunteering or doing pro bono work in the future is to ask “What do you need?” rather than assume. No matter how many social studies people run, no statistics can tell people what a stranger needs in that moment.

How do you go about helping others?

How to Give Back During the Holidays

As we wrap up the year many people are consumed by gift giving madness. Some are wondering how they’re going to afford presents. Others are just trying to provide their loved ones with food and shelter during the start of winter. 

Here are some quick ideas on how to help others have a happy, and fulfilling, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, and New Year’s:

The article is old, but let’s put that aside to focus on the idea. Donate your new, unwanted beauty products to shelters. 

Toys for Tots, Shop With a Mascot, and other local programs donate toys to underprivileged children in many areas across the United States. 

Food banks are always looking for donations

Kitchens also need help cooking holiday meals for those they serve!

Another old article here, all about a “Tie One On” event where a community tied winter clothes to trees and fences throughout town with notes for individuals to take the items if they needed them.

If you see a homeless individual outside a coffee shop, ask them if they’d like something warm to eat or drink. A little warm coffee or a bowl of soup goes a long way when the weather dips into the freezing temperatures. 

Make a shelter for the neighborhood feral cat.

Holiday Hustle

The holidays are the most stressful, yet simultaneously wonderful, time of year for college students. With exams, papers, shopping, parties, and everything in between it feels like there’s waaaaay too much going on to give back to the community.

Last year I volunteered at a fair trade store in my hometown that helped to provide living wages and education to women in third world countries. This year I felt like my options were limited. I’m at school, I have exams, and when I do get home for break I only have a week before Christmas. What could I do? Certainly not what I did last year. So here’s where the story time begins:

About September of this year a new friend of mine texted me at 3 AM asking if I’d help him mentor for something called “Shop With a Bulldawg.” I had no idea what it was and didn’t have many friends on campus so naturally I said yes, signed myself up, and didn’t think about it at all until fall break, when our mentor fee was due. I hadn’t even pulled up the website to see what they were talking about.

For those of you that don’t know, Shop With a Bulldawg is a non-profit student run organization at the University of Georgia that raises money and trains mentors to take impoverished children from the Athens-Clark community Christmas shopping at Target. I absolutely love working with kids, and love volunteering and giving back to the community almost as much, so this was a perfect fit for me! I even ran in their Shop With a Bulldawg (SWAB) First Annual 5k!

SWAB5k.jpg

 

 

(I’m in the front)

Picture taken by SWAB crew member

 

Event day was a total success! I got up at 5:15 AM and met my mentee at 6 at the Classic Center in Downtown Athens. He was in second grade and was very, very sleepy (but who can blame him!). My partner, my mentee, and I all went to Target and spent $100 on new shoes, clothes, and some awesome toys. As soon as we got to the toy section, my mentee’s face lit up. You could tell he was overwhelmed by all the options. We probably spent half an hour talking about which Nerf gun was the better choice!

After shopping all the mentors and mentees headed back to the Classic Center to wrap their Christmas gifts. Some of the kids had never wrapped a present in their lives. The room was full of laughing, smiling children. I even had a teacher from one of the Clark County elementary schools come up to me and thank me for volunteering.

swab2015 Picture courtesy of #SWAB2015 on Facebook (and did I mention the event was Finding Nemo themed?!)

So while I thought volunteering at college would be difficult to manage I had this opportunity fall into my lap, and I loved every minute of it! To see my mentee’s face light up with joy when he picked out the Christmas gifts he might not otherwise have gotten was the highlight of my holiday season. I hope everyone is finding the time to give back during this season of gift giving.

Happy Holidays!

xo Bailey