Want to help people living with homelessness in Seattle? Start simple.
For example, here’s how Suzanne Stauss’s family started an annual tradition of “Socksgiving.” They raised money from friends and family, and used it to buy socks during Fred Meyer’s Black Friday sales, and deliver them to Facing Homelessness, Tent City 4, and people on the street. Every year, she raised more money, and several of her friends started drives of their own. She did another successful drive, buying sleeping bags from the Labor Day weekend sales.
There was no Socksgiving in the Stauss household in 2020. The family was in the midst of moving to Spokane and Suzanne has been battling long-haul COVID-19 since spring. “Something had to give,” she says.
But in September 2020, she ran her most successful sleeping-bag drive ever.
“I raised double the amount I usually raise for sleeping bags and blankets with about half as much effort,” she says. “People who donated were really excited for an opportunity to do something.”
She ended up raising $2150, mostly in increments of $20 and $30.
“I had worried about people’s finances because of the economic challenges that came with the shutdown, but even people faced with economic challenges gave.”
Because it was 2020, everything worked a little different with this drive than it had the previous years. For a start, Fred Meyer was out of sleeping bags “because everyone decided to go camping.”
Suzanne ordered from Amazon, and had most of the sleeping bags shipped, and so wasn’t able to make much in the way of personal connections.
But a it was a deeply satisfying experience, “to have a sense of purpose after months of not being able to anything at all,” she says.
Help people by saying hello
Helping people needn’t take a lot of time or energy. There are a lot of ways that busy people 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 taking action to help 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 people.
Help people: Places to volunteer
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.
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:
A member of Feeding America, Food Lifeline distributes donations to 275 member agencies across Western Washington.
Statewide nonprofit that uses donations to provide more than 2 million meals to Washingtonians every month.
Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County
Works with more than 200 partner agencies across King County to provide food bags to anyone in need, supplying 430,000 meals per year.
Offers food bank, food delivery and emergency feeding services to families in crisis in the following areas: Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Shoreline and Sno-Valley.
Originally published in November 2019; updated Oct. 20, 2021