Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday are now in the rear-view mirror. But for homeless service agencies, the holiday rush is just beginning. Across the country, phones are buzzing with volunteer groups wanting to serve special meals or organize toy drives for families experiencing homelessness.
The holiday season represents an incredible opportunity for people to connect with the work that we do. But it also represents a responsibility to model the best ways for people to make an impact on ending homelessness.
It Matters What You Ask For
If all we ask for are turkeys and toys, people may leave with the impression that this is the best way they can be involved in the work.
What if we instead asked the community to donate funds for security deposits, first month’s rent, or move-in supplies?
Imagine the message that would send: that it’s just not enough to help someone celebrate their best holiday season in a shelter. Instead, our goal should be to give them the best holiday possible — in the safety, security, and dignity of a home.
Home for the Holidays
Organizations across the country are already doing creative things to put this concept into practice.
In 2016, several Central Virginia organizations collaborated in a holiday challenge to house as many households as possible. The “Home for the Holidays” effort informed supporters that placing a family in housing cost an average of $3,500. They encouraged donations to “give a family an opportunity to reach their dream of ending homelessness.”
“This was a great way to re-direct people,” said Meghann Cotter, Executive Servant-Leader at Micah Ministries in Fredericksburg, VA, one of the participants in the initiative. “The people that insisted on toys and turkeys still did it. And there was plenty to go around!”
This year, Cotter is working on a new concept, asking donors to provide a Christmas tree in addition to funds for a security deposit. She says that there’s “a sentimentality to it” that helps build the connection to what it means to have a home, adding that for donors, it is nice to feel like you are doing more than just writing a check.
Meanwhile, this year, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness is soliciting donations for its diversion efforts through a creative partnership with local funders and Paddington. For every $25 donated to its diversion program, CCEH and Paddington will provide a stuffed animal, book, or toy to a child experiencing homelessness. This novel program helps donors understand the role of diversion in helping local families remain housed, while also satisfying the common desire among donors to support families in shelter.
Making the Most of the Season
There is no more generous time than the holidays. But with the proper creative planning, you can leverage all that good will into building a better understanding of homelessness in your community. Even better, you can give each member of your community a great role in ending it.