THE BUZZ: Spreading the love one T-shirt, toothbrush at a time

By on April 23, 2015

Jackson Hole locals take to the streets to help the homeless in North American cities

 

Spotted reading a timeworn copy of ‘Born to Run,’ Shane is one of the homeless folks in SLC who received a care package from Operation Spread the Love. PHOTO: Hannah Hardaway

Spotted reading a timeworn copy of ‘Born to Run,’ Shane is one of the homeless folks in SLC who received a care package from Operation Spread the Love. (Photo: Hannah Hardaway)

 

“Never look down on anybody,” Reverend Jesse Jackson once said, “unless you’re helping him up.”

It was December, after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, when Wren Fialka found herself wandering the streets of San Francisco looking for a way to help the city’s homeless.

“When I’m in cities I spend a lot of time walking around and visiting with the homeless,” explained the Jackson Hole massage therapist, “but I have always felt like I could help more.”

Fialka said that despite hordes of people lining the streets, the protests and racial tension permeating the city shifted the focus further away from the homeless.

“[There were] so many outraged people and way too many police downtown and, still, no one seemed to see the homeless population,” she said.

So Fialka, along with fire fighter Dani Robillard, a Bay Area resident and former Jacksonite, devised a plan to offer practical help to San Francisco’s street dwellers.

“I asked some of my homeless friends, if I could give them a bag that would make their day to day [existence] better, what would be in it? What they told me,” Fialka said, “was eye opening and simple.”

Approaching business owners armed with a list of items that needy folks said would aid them most, Fialka and Robillard amassed a collection of donated goods that included food, water, clean T-shirts, socks, hats, work gloves, tooth brushes, feminine products, cough drops, small can openers and lighters.

They divvied up the items and crafted 50 care packages, and Operation Spread the Love was born. Care packages like these, which Fialka said are customized based on location and weather, are increasingly becoming one approach everyday people can take to improve the lives of homeless folks in various locales.

Fialka didn’t stop in San Fran. Back in Jackson, she recently enlisted the help of some friends and local businesses to create more care packages for homeless people, this time targeting folks in Salt Lake City. Last weekend Fialka and Jacksonites Hannah Hardaway, Hollie Hollensbe, Whitney Bell and Kieran Dulan — among a list of other folks and local business owners: Aion Headwear, Avalon 7, Lucky’s Market, Rev’d energy bars, Smith’s, Persephone Bakery, Lisa’s Boutique, Bluebird Wax, Carli Lyon, Annie and Calo La Matina, Lisa Evans, Collin Daily and Collin O’Farrel who donated money, items and time — drove to Salt Lake City to hand deliver 75 care packages adorned with heart-shaped signs that read, “use this,” “spread this,” “got this?” and “wake up.”

“We made the signs sturdy so they could be used for a while when people were asking for help,” Fialka explained.

 

Armed with 75 care packages, Fialka and crew  drove to Salt Lake City last weekend to provide basic supplies to homeless folks. (Photo:  Hannah Hardaway)

Armed with 75 care packages, Fialka and crew drove to Salt Lake City last weekend to provide basic supplies to homeless folks. (Photo: Hannah Hardaway)

 

The group explored areas near an SLC homeless shelter, the Rescue Mission, along with the train tracks – an area homeless folks are known to set up shop – the public library, areas by Temple Square and anywhere else they observed homeless people while driving in their Honda Element stacked with care packages and supplies.

“It’s important to do your research to make sure you’re not walking into a dangerous situation,” Fialka noted of some of the areas the group ventured to. “The homeless are clearly the best resource for that info.”

For Fialka, the gratifying interactions she’s had helping people on the streets have served as impetus to expand the scope of Operation Spread the Love.

Others in the group agreed that the experience was as enriching for them as it perhaps was for the homeless folks they helped.

“We took the time to sit and talk with each person we came across,” noted Hollensbe, a local chef. “It was nice to sit and listen to them talk about their lives and situations; it made it so much more personal. It also helped us learn what is really needed among the homeless.”

When asked about some of the people who struck a chord with her in Salt Lake City, Fialka recalled meeting a 70-year-old man who hadn’t eaten in days.

Missing all of his teeth, the man reported difficulties eating food, Fialka said, “but he literally ate a huge muffin from Persephone in one bite.”

Fialka also remembered a moment in San Francisco that reduced her and Robillard to tears after they doled out a care package: “We met this man who said he’d just decided to go to rehab that morning and he took our appearance as his sign from God that he was doing the right thing. After we hugged him goodbye and drove away, Dani looked in the rear view mirror and saw that he’d gotten down on his knees to pray.”

What’s next for Operation Spread the Love? Fialka has another SLC effort in the works slated for late June. She’s also putting together an operation for needy people in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico, near where she is spending the off-season.

“Everybody has something to give and we’re just trying to remind people of that,” Fialka said. “I think we just get so caught up in our own concerns that we forget to reach out to others.”

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole Weekly and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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