My name is Mariah Smith I'm 21 years old and I am the founder of Blankets for the Homeless.
Early October 2011, I was at a sonic with my mother and saw a Homeless man nearby. He was crouched down on the ground and had a little cart with him that had bags tied to it. He had a very deep cough... it was heartbreaking. It's hard to describe what went through my mind at that time, but all I knew is that I wanted to do something to help him. I looked in the back seat and saw that we had a blanket. I grabbed the blanket and food we had ordered and took it to him. He immediately wrapped the blanket around himself and started eating. I had never seen a Homeless person before so to say that I was horrified... is an understatement. On the way home all I did was cry.
When I got home I went to our linen closet and saw blankets that I did not even recognize... I knew what I needed to do. I made a flier with our phone number asking for donations of used blankets. Within a week I had distributed over 300 fliers to Hotels at the waterfront, local businesses, Schools, and Churches. After just two days people donated over 50 blankets, every day I would get calls from the fliers I distributed. More blankets were being donated. This was the beginning.
I had never really known the true meaning of hunger until I saw the way that man ate what I had given him. He was starving. After seeing that, I wanted to make sure that with every blanket we also gave a brown bag lunch. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bag of chips, cookies, piece of fruit and a bottle of water that they can refill. I know that a blanket and a lunch does not seem like much, but to someone who is hungry and sleeping on the ground it is the difference between being hungry and cold.. or not.
The first time we went out was the hardest. It was not hard finding the homeless, because if you are looking for them they are not hard to find. The hard part was trying to keep our emotions under control. I did not want to be crying while handing them a lunch and blanket. I wanted them to have the dignity that they deserve.
Originally, we started in Virginia Beach but soon expanded to Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Williamsburg, and we are continuing to grow. We drive all over looking for the Homeless community. They really are a community and look out for each other. They are always asking us to help their friends and tell us where we can find them. So, we go help them... and then they tell us about their friends...and the cycle just keeps going.
We have learned a lot about the Homeless shelters and how they work and we partner with them sharing our donations with them but when we distribute we don't go to the shelters, we deliver directly to the people on the streets. The shelters only hold so many so, we try and target the people who are not fortunate enough to get into a shelter.
Blankets for the Homeless is four years old and to date we have handed out over 110,000 blankets and lunches. We also collect and distribute sleeping bags, coats, hoodies, hats, scarves, gloves, sweatshirts, backpacks, Jeans, walking shoes, rain ponchos, in the summer we collect bug spray, sunscreen, summer clothes, baby wipes, the list goes on and on, basically anything they need we try to find a way to get it for them. The need is always there, the need is always great, but it changes as the weather does.
People ask me why I am doing this… What made me want to help?
I was born and abandoned on Christmas Eve 21 years ago. So, when I was born I was homeless too. My foster mother adopted me when I was 2 years old. My parents are amazing and I feel so fortunate and BLESSED to have that love and security when my future was so uncertain at first.
I am helping the homeless because I want them to know that someone truly cares. I hope that what we are doing brings awareness to something so tragic…..being homeless.
We welcome everyone who wants to help us, there are so many different things that you can do to get the people around you involved, adults can go to their places of employment and ask if they could put a drop box there, teens can go to their principal and ask to have a blanket collection, or a collection of other items that they so desperately need like gloves and back packs. We also have a Facebook page BLANKETS FOR THE HOMELESS HAMPTON ROADS that you could “Like” and “Share” to help us spread the word.
We will come and pick up any items donated and distribute them. We are also asking that everyone make a "Blessing Box" to keep in their car with five non-perishable lunches, blankets, clothes, hats, gloves, toiletries, and other desperately needed items so you can immediately help someone in need. You can make a difference! We all can!