LaGuardia team sharing care and kindness in the homeless community
Riverside, Calif. (Jan. 12, 2021)—It was a warm April day when Zachary LaGuardia went to a 99 Cents Only Store to purchase 50 containers of sunscreen to pass out to members of the homeless community in Riverside. He ended up spending over $200.
“The world around us is crazy, but I wanted to still make a difference and impact those who needed help,” said LaGuardia, director of ticketing and sales in Athletics at California Baptist University. “I’ve seen the homeless community grow in the four years that I’ve been here in Riverside. I walked down the aisles and saw other items like ChapStick and water bottles and snacks and realized these were items I used in my daily life but the homeless need these items, too. So, I threw them into my cart.”
He went home and assembled 50 kits to hand out to people experiencing homelessness.
LaGuardia noticed the impact his kits made when he came across one of the homeless men who was still using the kit 10 days after receiving it.
Sharing about his experience through social media and word of mouth, LaGuardia’s effort grew to receive help from more than 500 volunteers who make 200 care packages a month. As more volunteers joined, LaGuardia decided to start a nonprofit organization, Kits With Kindness, that creates monthly care packages for members of the homeless population.
Each kit includes food, hygiene items, socks and a handwritten note.
“The handwritten notes have been a staple from the start because I’ve always loved handwritten notes,” LaGuardia said. “It’s just a personal touch that offer words of encouragement and to remind them that there are people who care about them. They do hold value and there is a future beyond the circumstances they currently find themselves in.”
LaGuardia said the nonprofit focuses on relationship building rather than just handing out the kits, and that the team effort is what makes the difference.
“There’s a team of drivers who hand deliver these kits, but we make sure to ask [the homeless] how they are and begin to build a relationship with them. This is not transactional but focused on making a lasting difference to remind them they still matter and we still care,” LaGuardia said.
Each month, Kits With Kindness asks for a bigger item to be donated along with the smaller items. In December, the nonprofit wanted blankets. In January it is sleeping bags.
Geby Rawung, a business administration senior, oversees mask donation on LaGuardia’s team. So far, Rawung has secured over $5,000 worth of masks and supplies.
“During this pandemic, people are only a bill or paycheck away from losing their next meal or shelter,” Rawung said. “Those experiencing homelessness are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and not just junkies. It doesn’t hurt to be kind. There are so many reasons that people can become homeless, which means that there is no single solution in addressing the issue, but there is always a way that we can help.”
Rawung added that, being a college student, she was not able to donate a lot of money to the nonprofit so she used her business skills as a way to help.
Volunteers meet once a month to pack the kits. The next packing day is Jan. 19. Those interested can find more information on getting involved at kitswithkindness.org.