It’s that time of year again. The seasons are changing, leaves are falling and sun rays are few and far between as darkness falls quicker than desired. The winter gear once tucked in the closet slowly makes its way frontward for easy access, as each day onward requires more layers. We’re beginning to brace ourselves before leaving the front door, but not before making a warm beverage to ease the daily commute. Fall is here, winter is approaching and so are the holidays that accompany them. ’Tis the season to be jolly and give back, but why do we only do so during this time?
Throughout the year, we’re focused on our individual lives and are too busy to think about others. That is, until a sappy, Thanksgiving TV special airs and encourages volunteering hours for the holidays.
Sometimes, biased prejudgments cloud the idea of volunteering, but people who are homeless don’t choose to be so. A few factors that contribute to homelessness are poverty, unemployment, poor physical and mental health, drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence and physical and/or sexual abuse. These life occurrences can potentially happen to anyone.
“I like to volunteer because it’s the next best thing a poor college student like me can do,” says Ile-Ife Okantah, an Akron native and current Kent State University student. “I don’t have extra money to give to charities or people, but donating time is just as helpful. It’s more hands-on and you get to see the people you’re helping. Not that I volunteer to make myself feel good, but it is a great feeling when you put a face to the people you’re helping and actually interact with them. It makes you want to help again.”
Although she attends Kent State University, Okantah makes sure she volunteers in Kent and Akron, since she considers herself a dual citizen. She has volunteered through Kent State’s Community Service and Learning Opportunities Program, has helped churches in Akron with their weekly dinners and has even volunteered at the Haven of Rest, one of the most popular homeless shelters in the city.
“I want to directly help the communities I live in,” Okantah says. “If we won’t help us, who will?”
Although the Haven of Rest is a well-known homeless shelter in Northeast Ohio, there are multiple agencies around the city that will benefit from any kind of help as well. Other organizations include Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties, Family Promise of Summit County, Akron Snow Angels, The Homeless Charity, ACCESS Inc., The Harry Donovan Jr. Valor Home of Summit County and New Start Ministries.
As a single-location business started by Richard Gologram 37 years ago, New Start Ministries struggles to keep afloat. Gologram has one home at 1181 Lily St, where he houses five men who were once homeless. He runs doctor’s and counseling appointments, shops for them, hosts bible studies, provides toiletries and anything one may need, but still battles with finding enough resources.
“Getting food is always the hard part,” says Gologram. “It’s just me and sometimes I can’t make it to the Foodbank in time.”
Gologram does receive help from volunteers occasionally, but wishes it was more often.
“We always have volunteers for Thanksgiving, but come Christmas, we don’t have any,” he says. “I wish we had people to help gather food and small presents for Christmas. I used to be homeless once, which is why I started this, so I know that just a smile and visit from others can be uplifting. Our door is always open to visitors and volunteers.”
Many organizations have year-round wish lists, which helps maintain the supply of resources for each person served. Valor Home divides its wishes into four categories: resident personal needs, commonly used items, the needs of residents moving out, and big wishes. Bed pillows, sheets, towels, boxers, gloves, paper towels, water, eggs, dishes, canned food and anything of the like are popular items that are wished for and supportive in everyday life.
Carole Moore, executive administrative assistant at ACCESS Inc. says they also have a wishlist and hold numerous volunteering opportunities and fundraisers throughout the year.
“We have an ACCESS volunteering team that has ‘Action at ACCESS Saturdays,’ where we rally people together and do things that otherwise wouldn’t get done,” Moore says. “Small acts of service like this really enriches the families here and shows them that people care.”
In its most recent database, The Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless showed that in 2015, there were 6,109 homeless people in Summit County. Although this number may have changed, homelessness, poverty and the lack of resources remains an issue in the community. By donating household items, time, money and food year-round, we can help those in need on a consistent basis and not just during the holidays.
For more information on how to help, go to havenofrest.org, familypromisesc.org, akronsnowangels.com, thehomelesscharity.org, access-shelter.org and fcsserves.org.
(Photo of Second Chance Village courtesy of The Homeless Charity)
(Photo of ACCESS volunteers courtesy of ACCESS, Inc.)