With Punxsutawney Phil promising six more weeks of winter (we think that’s an optimistic estimate), Grand Rapids nonprofits helping homeless individuals and families are still in need of winter gear to help those in need stay warm.
GR|MAG talked with Starla McDermott, development director for Guiding Light, about the organization’s specific needs during these last weeks of winter.
GR|MAG: A lot of people think about donating to homeless shelters and other organizations ahead of the holidays, but the needs are ongoing. What does Guiding Light need most right now in terms of donations?
Starla McDermott: At the moment, Guiding Light is in need of men’s and women’s coats, particularly XL and 2 XL for men, along with ski gloves that remain dry in cold, wet weather. We also have a need for coffee, which we brew and serve to those who come in from the cold. These items are used for the men in our Back to Work and Recovery programs, but we also share these items with community members.
GR|MAG: Do donations need to be new or gently used? What should people think about when selecting items for donation?
SM: We will accept both new and gently used items that are clean and in good condition.
GR|MAG: I have heard there can be a correlation between giving and weather, as in, when it’s a harsher winter, people think more about donating warm clothing than in a less harsh winter. Do you see this and what has the impact of this year’s weather been on giving?
SM: As the weather begins to get colder in the fall, we do see a large uptick in donations of winter items. We received a number of coats, hats and gloves this past October but the need seems to be higher this year, and we are already running low. Winter is far from over. We still have two to three more months of cold and we want to be able to provide items needed to help people stay warm and dry.
GR|MAG: I know some other organizations have struggled a bit with food donations in the past couple of years. What’s your experience been with item donations? Did you surpass previous donations in December this year or not? Is the need growing in Grand Rapids for items? If so, why is that?
SM: Grand Rapids is a very caring and philanthropic city, and we have been very blessed with abundant food donations this year. We use donated food to prepare daily as well as holidays meals. When we have had excess food items, we have also been able to share these with other community organizations.
But, we always have a need for coffee or spices, which people do not tend to think about when donating food. We go through close to five pounds of coffee each day during the wintertime and always run out.
GR|MAG: I have also read a few articles about the value of monetary donations going further than individual item donations, but people tend to feel better giving say a jacket than $100. What do you suggest people do when thinking about making donations?
SM: There will always be a need for clothing and winter goods. Many of the men in our programs show up with nothing. Cash donations will always give Guiding Light the most flexibility to help the men in our Back to Work and Recovery programs. It costs a little over $300 a week to provide a safe place to sleep and three healthy meals a day to men who are ready to make a change and get back to work.
But at Guiding Light, we provide more than just a safe place to stay temporarily. We provide financial counseling and the tools men need to find full-time employment, save money and leave our programs ready move into their own apartments and be successful.
GR|MAG: Is there anything else you think people should think about regarding making donations?
SM: Guiding Light is open seven days a week. All donations can be dropped off at our location in the Heartside neighborhood, 255 Division Ave. S. You can also mail a financial donation to Guiding Light at the same address with the zip code of 49503. We have amazing partners who help these men off the street and onto a payroll. We are truly grateful for all the ways you show your support. Thank you.