Wrap Up the Holiday by Lending a Hand


Photo courtesy of Interfaith Works.

A group of volunteers prepares a meal for the residents of the Carroll House, a housing unit through Interfaith Works.

By Becky Wolfson, Production Editor

The holiday season is usually a time of joy and a time to be with family, friends and good food. However, there are at least 1,100 Montgomery County residents who do not have such privileges because they are homeless.
Although this time of year is popular for big feasts and resolutions, it is also a popular time to give back to others who are less fortunate to help make their holiday season merrier.
“I think my favorite reward [for helping others out] is seeing their smile,” junior Maddie Dahl said. “After volunteering, seeing that immediate happy response makes you feel good about what you just did.”
There are many organizations in the DMV area that provide volunteer opportunities for teenagers to help the homeless.

So Others May Eat (SOME)
SOME is an organization that aims to end the cycle of homelessness. Based in DC, SOME provided over 427,278 meals to those in need last year, and provided clothing, healthcare and affordable housing. SOME has many volunteer opportunities for individuals of all ages.
“Last holiday season, I volunteered at SOME through my church,” freshman Hannah Bush said. “After I volunteered, I felt really empowered, and it was eye-opening to see how grateful people were.”
According to SOME program manager Stephanie Shallah, teens can volunteer in the dining room and host a food drive year-round. During the holidays, however, teens can sort holiday donations and participate in the shoebox gift drive.
To participate in SOME’s shoebox gift drive one must fill a shoebox with winter weather wear (hats, gloves, etc.) and certain toiletries, such as toothpaste.
“[We value] shoebox donations because they have a lot of items for quick use,” Shallah said. “We wrap up boxes and distribute them so the homeless individuals feel cared for. It’s the closest thing to a gift many of them will receive at all and it gives them a little hope and joy.”
Despite the amount of products that can be filled in these boxes, SOME has restrictions when distributing items like cash, candy, mouthwash or hand sanitizer.
“Hand sanitizer and mouthwash have alcohol and we don’t want items that contain alcohol to be distributed in the shoebox,” Shallah said. “People who struggle with alcoholism are very desperate and can use these items the wrong way to get their next fix.”
While homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations receive an influx of donations during the holiday season, it is important to remember that homelessness exists year round.
“During the spring and summer people tend to donate less,” Shallah said. “Homelessness doesn’t end in seasons. Being a regular donor is a wonderful thing.”

Interfaith Works

Another nonprofit organization that works to meet the needs of the poor in Montgomery County is Interfaith Works (IW). At the Carroll House, a men’s housing unit of IW, students can make meals for the 32 residents and either drop the meals off or stay and serve them for dinner.
According to Sara Cherner, program assistant at Carroll House, when students donate or volunteer they realize that homeless individuals come from a variety of backgrounds.
“Everyone’s story is different,” Cherner said. “Some men are here because they lost their jobs, could no longer pay the rent or mortgage and had no safety net such as family and friends. Some struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, some suffer from physical and or mental disabilities, and some all of the above. Many volunteers realize how fortunate they have been in life and are more empathetic to those who have so much less. They enjoy hearing their stories and getting to know the residents as individuals.”
According to Cherner, IW relies heavily on donations so their funds can be used to help individuals avoid utility cut-offs, evictions and provide grants and loans.

Stepping Stones Shelter

Stepping Stones Shelter is a center that provides food and shelter to homeless families with children.
Stepping Stones accepts meal donations year round. During the holidays, anyone can help sponsor a family by providing resident families with presents from their wish list.
According to Rhonda, a part-time volunteer at Stepping Stones Shelter, she volunteers because she enjoys the feeling of giving back to others less fortunate than herself.
“By volunteering, you get to dispel the myth of what it’s like being homeless,” Rhonda said. “There are a lot of misconceptions [about homelessness]. When people think homeless, they think of men lying in the street and begging for food. Homelessness doesn’t look like that all the time. Homelessness can be a single mother, someone who lost their job or someone who lost their spouse.”