VCU students and local residents are no stranger to the prevalent, and sometimes invasive, issue of homelessness in Richmond, particularly around the Monroe Park Campus. It’s an ugly part of life in Richmond and one in grave need of a solution.
To that end, at the end of every semester, a few VCU students exhibit their charitable nature and use their excess meal swipes at various on-campus dining locations to feed local homeless people.
It is truly heartwarming to see students, who often rush by and seem to ignore homeless people, to give away what would have been otherwise wasted meals to those without. Whether they go on to social networking sites to organize and gather groups of other students to do the same or go about their charity on an individual basis, it’s honorable and praiseworthy.
These students, however, need to realize that their support and charity needs to be consistent throughout the year, as well as organized, if they truly intend to help homeless individuals.
Homeless people don’t need summer soldiers and sunshine patriots; they need the steadfast support of an actively engaged community. It’s not a morally reprehensible act to aid a person’s plight by giving them free food, but it is misguided and disingenuous to help those in need only when it’s convenient for the giver.
In 2009, a group of students at UCLA faced a similar dilemma and dealt with it by organizing “Swipes for the Homeless.” The group combats hunger in Los Angeles by working in conjunction with UCLA’s dining services and allows students to donate meal swipes to hungry people in the area. In addition to accepting and distributing donations, the group informs students on other ways to get involved in fighting hunger. Although initially based at UCLA, it’s been expanded into a nationally recognized organization that’s distributed more than 20,000 pounds of food and thousands of meals to those in need.
Those students saw a crisis and rather than make piecemeal efforts at being charitable, converted it into an opportunity to organize a movement to fight it. A concerted organization helps ensure that the food is distributed equally and appropriately, much in the same manner that the other groups that distribute food in Monroe Park do.
Students should also be aware that individual acts of charity might be counterproductive. Kelly Horne of Homeward, which provides services for homeless people in the greater Richmond area, recommends that individuals instead donate money, food, clothing or volunteer with professional organizations that specialize in combating homelessness. Individual acts of kindness, like handing out food without the guise of an organization, encourages homeless people and panhandlers to loiter on the street or at medians. This makes it harder for organizations to reach out and provide them with services they might need, including shelter.
Although students lead busy lives and have their own struggles, that’s no excuse for charity to be seasonally selective. No struggle is as difficult as the one homeless people face daily. This isn’t meant to dissuade students, but rather encourage them to lead a more charitable lifestyle; instead of volunteering at a soup kitchen when the holidays approach, volunteer in the spring, well after thoughts of Santa Claus exit the mind.