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Want to help the homeless in Seattle? Here's how your family can get started



One way to help people living outdoors is to provide necessities like sleeping bags and socks. Look for sales to stretch your budget.

Photo: Rex Hohlbein / Facing Homelessness

 

Here’s how Suzanne Stauss’s family started celebrating Socksgiving.

Suzanne's husband, Daniel, had a longstanding habit of going to Fred Meyer during November sales to pick up “buy one get one free” socks.

“I was reading an article about more effectively serving our homeless,” Suzanne says. “Socks being the No. 1-requested, least-donated thing at the time, as long as we were shopping on Black Friday to get cheap socks, why not get them to donate as well?”

The first year, it was just Suzanne’s family. The next year, she mentioned it on Facebook, and her friends pitched in. They ended up with about 1,000 pairs of socks stacked high in the family Hyundai. After that it became a tradition. In 2018, three of Suzanne’s friends were doing it too.

Most of the socks Suzanne collects go to Facing Homelessness and Tent City 4, but some she distributes personally. She and her two kids, Jane, 14, and Joe, 12, walk around during Thanksgiving weekend handing out socks and cookies (Suzanne has a business making cookies and cakes). She also keeps some socks in her car, in case the family come across someone who needs them.

“I feel very very strongly that we need to appreciate the humanity of the people we are serving. To actually go out to talk to people and get to know people and their stories,” she says.

“There are just generally baseless fears surrounding homeless people and people in need. The fastest way to dispel any sort of fear is to get to know somebody.”

Suzanne’s family’s commitment to serving the needy goes well beyond socks. She and Daniel both work at Issaquah church of Christ, Daniel as evangelist, Suzanne as “hey you, who does things.” The church’s youth group provides hot meals for Tent City 4 twice a month.

Suzanne also does an annual sleeping-bag drive to take advantage of Fred Meyer Labor Day weekend sales.

But making an impact needn’t take a lot of time. There are a lot of ways that working parents with packed schedules can still make an impact. Suzanne suggests that people make contact with an organization doing good work and find out what its wish lists are.

Rex Hohlbein, founder of Facing Homelessness, says many people don't know where to start, when it comes to helping people who live outdoors.

"One of the big stumbling blocks is not that we’re not compassionate people but that we’re really overwhelmed by it," he says.

Facing Homelessness has a campaign to fight that in the simplest way possible: by encouraging people to make eye contact and give a kind word to people they see living on the street.

The point of the "Just Say Hello" campaign is to get people in the habit of thinking about those around them, and to break the habit of looking away. Hohlbein says homeless people often feel shunned by society, and small kindnesses can do a lot to make their days easier. And there are other benefits.

"If you say 'Hello' enough times with the same person, that 'Hello' turns into 'What's your name?' and from there you don't know where it goes. You never know unless you begin," Hohlbein says.

If you have a skill, that might come in handy. Maybe it’s filling in paperwork, cutting hair, putting together a job-interview outfit from donated clothes, clipping coupons or knowing when to get a deal on socks.

“You don’t have to save the world this week. Pick something and do it,” Suzanne says.

Here is a list to help you figure out how your family can help.

 

Volunteer opportunities

Facing Homelessness: www.facinghomelessness.org Sign up at the website's volunteer hub to connect with ways to help.

Seattle Works: seattleworks.org
Offers a searchable database of volunteer opportunities. Filters for age of volunteer, populations you’d like to help, and ZIP code-specific activities that find the best fit for your family.

United Way of King County: uwkc.org/volunteer
Searchable database of volunteer activities that enables you to search for family-friendly options. 

Volunteer Match: volunteermatch.org
Searchable database allows you to filter results based on specific causes, as well as matches that are a good fit for kid and teen volunteers.

Doing Good Together: doinggoodtogether.org
Compiles lists of family-friendly volunteering opportunities called Big-Hearted Families. They run a February kindness challenge. Listings aren’t searchable/sortable, but all opportunities are created with families in mind. Age restrictions are included in the listings.

Volunteer Washington: volunteerwashington.org
Statewide site that lets you search volunteering opportunities and agencies seeking volunteers, filtered by county.

 

Host a food drive

A food drive is something your whole family can be involved in. Many organizations provide resources such as printable flyers, collection containers and pickup at the conclusion of your drive. Here are just a few of the organizations you could partner with:

Food Driving Box Northwest
fooddrivingbox.org
Provides boxes that you keep in your car. Printed right on the box are the most-needed items. Boxes are available at and benefit the 27 Seattle Food Committee member food banks.

Food Lifeline
foodlifeline.org/how-to-help/host-food-drive
A member of Feeding America, Food Lifeline distributes donations to 275 member agencies across Western Washington.

Northwest Harvest
northwestharvest.org/food-drives
Statewide nonprofit that uses donations to provide more than 2 million meals to Washingtonians every month.

Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County
emergencyfeeding.org
Works with more than 200 partner agencies across King County to provide food bags to anyone in need, supplying 430,000 meals per year.

Hopelink
hopelink.org
Offers food bank, food delivery and emergency feeding services to families in crisis in the following areas: Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Shoreline and Sno-Valley.

 


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