United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

January 10, 2017

Ready to give up on your New Year’s Resolutions? Not so fast.

Helping homeless families is easier than you think.

One thing many of us have in common is that on January 1st, we committed to living better lives. In small ways and large, by improving our health, our environment or the lives of those around us. Though we start the year with the best of intentions, by late March or early April, life has gotten in the way and resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Yet the problems that need our attention remain. Helping people in need, in particular helping homeless families, is even more critical during these cold, dark winter months. Here are some ways to help people in need without making unsustainable changes to your routine.

Out with the old and in with the new!

The New Year is a great time to de-clutter. Imagine what a family moving into their first permanent home could do with that set of pots and pans you bought right after college. Think of the 6 year old girl heading off to a new school after moving to yet another shelter – with the princess backpack your daughter doesn’t use anymore. Do your teenagers still play with the firefighter costume? Do your grade-schoolers still read board books? Give your toys a new life and brighten the life of a child in turmoil. Some organizations will even arrange a pickup at your home. Call or visit Mass 2-1-1 online for more information.

Re-gift your holiday gift cards.

How many gift cards did you get over the holidays? Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Chipotle? If you re-gifted them, would you miss them? A warm cup of coffee or a bagel could mean the world to someone who spends most of their time outside. Keep them in your pocket the next time you go to the gym or head out to work – you’ll find plenty of people who will remember them long after the coffee is gone.

Broaden your horizons.

When most people think of homelessness, they think of the person on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign. In fact, many homeless people are children, often living without one or both of their parents. 97% of homeless children move at least once on an annual basis, which leads to disruptions in school that can have a negative impact on academic achievement. Homeless children are twice as likely to have a learning disability, repeat a grade, or to be suspended from school. Learn about why people become homeless, and how homelessness affects thousands of children in our region. Then apply that knowledge by giving back where, and how you can.  Here’s a great source of information about homelessness in our region.

Change your routine – a little.

An extra bag of rice or box of cereal in your grocery cart costs very little, yet can help a parent avoid sending a child to bed or to school on an empty stomach. Stop by the customer service desk at your grocery store and see if they accept donations – most have programs that provide donated food to food pantries. Make it a habit to buy an extra of something every time you shop. Programs like Stop and Shop’s Food for Friends make it easy and you’ll hardly notice the extra cost.

Buy one, give one.

Last week, after an epic ice storm, a woman named Dawn ventured out to go shopping. On her drive, she saw a man trudging through slushy puddles wearing disintegrating sneakers. She called her local police’s non-emergency number, the police found the gentleman, brought him in from the cold and loaned him a pair of boots. In the meantime, she went to Goodwill and purchased boots, socks, a hat and gloves, which she brought to the police station. With this small act of kindness, Dawn changed a life that day – and motivated a community to do the same.  You can read the whole story here.   (if you’re not following the Bangor Police Department’s Facebook feed do it now. Trust us on this one.) A pair of warm socks can go a long way for someone sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching people directly, check in with your local police department or call Mass-2-1-1 (simply dial 211 on your phone) to find services available.

These are just a few simple ways to help you keep those well-intentioned resolutions and improve the lives of those in need. All for the price of a cup of coffee, a pair of warm socks or a princess backpack.