By Sarah Scott
This past Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the UniversalGiving team came together to create 24 care packages filled with items like bottled water, toothpaste, chapstick, and granola bars. Everyone signed up to bring a 24-count of one or two items (i.e. 24 toothbrushes) so as to evenly distribute the cost of these presents. The result?
In order to learn about how such an amazing project came about, I turned to the Manager of Corporate Client Services at UniversalGiving, Xouhoa Bowen, for the insider scoop.
Xouhoa came up with the idea for this event during an office brainstorm where the team tried to come to a consensus about how they wanted to give back for Thanksgiving. As Xouhoa noted, “UniversalGiving is very cognizant of our surroundings in terms of being aware of who needs help and who needs to be served.” In this case, she was referring to the overwhelmingly visible homeless population in the Bay Area.
According to Guidestar, there are close to 35,000 homeless people in this region, with estimates as high as 15,000 homeless people in San Francisco alone. And while there are homeless populations all around the world, San Francisco’s situation seems particularly dire because of the juxtaposition between extreme poverty and rampant wealth. The homeless and the rich live in very close proximity. For example, on Market Street, you see so much money, shopping, and commercialization. And simultaneously, you see so many people asking for help. “There are so many different identities to the homeless population,” Xouhoa added. “It’s not just people who are mentally ill. It’s also young people, old people, college graduates, professionals.”
After having these conversations, the team unanimously decided that this was the population that they were going to focus on during this giving season.
Xouhoa hoped to create an event that would be “small, meaningful, and not take too much time to put together.” During the team brainstorm, they realized a care package of essentials, such as toiletries and dry food, would be a good way to show their support. The goal was to give something tangible and engaging rather than money that would be quickly spent. Over the next week, the team put together a spreadsheet of different items that they would bring in. Xouhoa explained that one of the most meaningful parts of the project was how involved everyone was. “For those that were out of the office during the initial meeting, we caught them up with quick one-on-one conversations about what we were doing and why we were doing it. We didn’t just want to give out items – we wanted to deliver presents with dignity, care, and meaning.”
In addition to these items, the team also created a list of resources. “We were pleasantly surprised by how many organizations are trying to help the homeless population.” Xouhoa said. “We were whittling down resources because we couldn’t give them pages and pages! We decided on ones that provided meals for Thanksgiving as well as some creative organizations, like ‘Lava Mae,’ which is striving to increase access to sanitation and showers for all.
When the day arrived, the team took their lunches and their items to the kitchen and put together the care bags. “We created the event so that it would become a part of everything that we were already doing,” Xouhoa explained. “We did the brainstorm during a break, people donated a bit of their free time after work to buy the items, and then we assembled the bags as a team during our lunch break. As it is with all team efforts, no one was being asked to donate too much time or too much money.”
After work, they all took some time to walk around the area outside of the office to gift the packages. This event left everyone feeling satisfied, valuable, and dignified. With Giving Tuesday just around the corner, all of us at UniversalGiving want to know how you will be helping your communities! Please comment below!
Xouhoa Bowen is originally from outside of Chicago. She earned an undergraduate degree in international affairs and psychology from Marquette University in Wisconsin. After she graduated, she gained experience in different sectors through her work with the Peace Corps, refugees in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and schools in South Korea before moving to the Bay Area. She has a masters in project management, which is what has led her to her current position as the Manager of Corporate Client Services at UniversalGiving. The concepts of service and giving have always been important to her and she believes in tackling obstacles and working together as integral parts to achieving results.