In The Spirit Of Giving

5 Things I Learned About Giving Back After Starting A Nonprofit

“It’s more than just material needs.”

We love tinsel and trappings as much as the next Elf on the Shelf devotees, but here at A Plus, we believe that true wintertime magic comes in the form of connection and human kindness. Over the next month, come back and join us in raising a glass to those who give — because what's December without a little holiday spirit?

Last year, my friend, Kydee Williams, and I started a nonprofit project because we wanted to do charity differently. We both had history in philanthropy and community service, but felt like there was more we could do. Us being native New Yorkers and having grown up witnessing the city's homeless epidemic on a daily basis, we were especially drawn to homelessness alleviation. Thus, The Pop-Up Care Shop (TPUCS) was born.

TPUCS  is essentially a traveling shop of free donated goods for people in need to enjoy. During the holidays, we host clothing drives and then go to women's shelters (as our current focus are women and children) to transform their space into a boutique — clothing donations are placed on racks in size order, music is played, and personal shoppers are on hand to help style. Our main goal is to help uplift and empower women who are homeless with compassion and dignity, as well as bring a little holiday cheer to our local communities. 

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Of course, starting any project or movement isn't easy. Brainstorming and coming up with cool ideas is the fun part, but actually bringing those ideas to life can seem almost impossible at times. However, there were lessons about giving back that we didn't fully realize until we embarked on this journey. 

If you're thinking of starting your own nonprofit organization or project, or if you just want to do something cool to get involved, check some of what we learned below. 

1. Having a choice is empowering.

Besides wanting to create a happy and dignified space for people in need, what initially inspired our project was an unforgettable moment I had with a young man who was homeless. Back in 2015, I held a small clothing drive for Bowery Mission. As I was delivering the donations to the shelter, I ran into Andre, a 17-year-old homeless teen with a physical disability. 

It was a freezing December night and he had a light jacket on. I asked if he wanted to follow me to the shelter, but he declined and asked if it was OK if he could get some of the clothing donations. I opened the bag for him to search through and I realized he was rushing to not hold me up, but I told him to take his time and pick what he wanted and what would keep him warm.

As we sorted through the clothes it occurred to me that so many people who find themselves in vulnerable situations can feel powerless and as if they don't deserve even basic privileges, such as choosing what to wear. So very often when it comes to clothing donations, recipients are only able to take whatever they can get. A year later, when Kydee and I joined forces to do TPUCS, we rooted our mission in the power of choice. So many of the women in the shelters we worked with, are survivors of domestic abuse, poverty, mental illness, and other circumstances that can lead anyone to homelessness and feeling powerless. Even having the smallest opportunities to make a choice in life can boost self-esteem

2. Small shelters are often overlooked.

Huge, notable, and impactful organizations are wonderful — they help raise awareness and many of them do a lot of great things for the world. But, if you're thinking of donating to, or supporting, an organization or shelter, don't forget about the small ones. From our experience, we learned smaller shelters, especially those residing in the less-commercialized areas of NYC, like the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn, are often overlooked when it comes to getting community support.  Smaller shelters and organizations are typically more open to new and creative ideas and would greatly welcome volunteers who want to help push their mission of helping others rehabilitate their lives. 

3. The people behind shelters/nonprofits need support too.

So many selfless people give their lives to nonprofit work, and it is not easy.  Many shelters are underfunded and understaffed, and the staff overworked. As human beings, we can only do as much as we can under difficult conditions. When we reached out to Sammon Build to do our first Care Shop, we were met with so much excitement. Enthusiasm is contagious and you can help lift spirits of people in need and the folks who provide those needs. Working directly with the staff helped us understand the specific needs of the shelter and raise awareness within the neighborhood. 

4. Direct reach can make a huge difference.

Even though we can't help every single person in the world, we can make a world of difference for at least one person — and that matters more than you can even imagine. Direct reach, especially for causes involving homelessness, can provide a better perspective to the realities of the people you are serving. 

At our first Care Shop, we got a chance to really hear the women's personal stories. That direct contact offered so much space for love, positive energy, and understanding. A lot of times, philanthropy can feel like a numbers game. How much are you giving? How many people need to be served? Statistics can overshadow the true purpose, and even worse, the humanity of those served. One of the best feelings anyone can experience is the feeling of being seen, recognized, heard. 

5. It’s more than just material needs.

While material items like food, clothes, money, and shelter can help people survive, what truly helps people live is the intangible necessities like love, presence, patience, and time. One of our favorite quotes is from Audrey Hepburn who once said, "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." Not many people are fortunate enough to have learned sustainable life skills that would keep them safe and a roof over their heads, which is why career workshops, educational resources, volunteer efforts, and uplifting events (like an impromptu shopping party)  are so important. 

The Pop-Up Care Shop is an interactive nonprofit charity project founded by Kadia Blagrove, a contributing writer for A Plus, and Kydee Williams. If you'd like to support us, please visit our GoFundMe. We are currently looking for volunteers in the NYC area for our upcoming Care Shop on Saturday, December 16, 2017, if you are interested, please email thepopupcareshop@gmail.com for more information. Visit ThePopUpCareShop.org to learn more about us.

Cover image via Instagram / @ThePopUpCareShop

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