Smith honored for work with homeless

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“On behalf of Governor Raimondo, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive a Rhode Island Executive Branch Employee Recognition Award in Community Service. The Community Service Award recognizes individuals who provide outstanding contributions through participation in community-service projects or volunteer service with nonprofit organizations,” reads the Community Service Award Letter from the Governor’s Office for Andrea Smith of Cranston. On August 2, Smith received her recognition citation at the RI State House.

As President and Executive Director of Help the Homeless RI, Smith has already made a huge impact on the plight of the homeless in RI. By day, Smith is a Standards Technician the State of RI Division of Purchases.

“Our Facebook page was created in January of 2014 to attempt to reach out to individuals and groups helping the homeless. I started attending the Homeless Connect event at the state house every week. I would bring toiletries and try to assist in fulfilling needs for clothing and footwear,” said Smith. “I started to connect with advocates and outreach workers and was very impressed by the work of RIHAP (RI Homeless Advocacy Project) and knew I wanted to get more involved. I started attending Statewide Outreach Meetings monthly, taking vacation and personal time to attend. I started to learn about resources to assist people in need. I first served food at Easter dinner in 2014 and soon after that our group started feeding regularly in West Warwick.”

Help The Homeless RI became an organization in July of 2015 when there were 3 individuals leading the group at that time but shortly after filing the other people decided they wanted to just focus on West Warwick left Smith to head up Help The Homeless RI.

“The group split up, I became President and Exec. Director and Help the Homeless RI became a non-profit last year,” said Smith. Help the Homeless RI is a registered 501c3. “Our Mission is to unite organizations, agencies, and communities to create a statewide effort to help the homeless and impoverished in Rhode Island,” said Smith.

“Our core volunteers missed feeding people and eventually decided it was time to find another community in need so we started feeding in Pawtucket in the summer of 2016 and a small group in West Warwick in the fall of 2016. Eventually we had enough people to branch out to another community and decided to head to Woonsocket. We have been feeding there since April of this year,” said Smith.

There numbers of those they are assisting has grown to over 100 people per week. In addition to providing food to those in need, they also assist outreach workers and case managers with items for their clients.

“For the second year in a row I decided to ask for socks for the homeless for my birthday. I set a pretty steep goal of 1500 pairs of socks. Used Facebook and Twitter to ask for donations,” said Smith. She made it easy for people to purchase online by setting up a wish list on Amazon. People could order online and have them shipped directly to her.

Theresa Tese from Comfort Socks began following Smith’s efforts last year and when she saw another sock drive, she contacted Smith to put in a request for socks.

Comfort Socks is a 501(c)3 public charity that gives new socks to homeless shelters and non-profits whose mission is to serve the homeless. Smith exceeded her goal with the donation from Comfort Socks and ended up with 2600 pairs of socks to distribute.

“I collected 1059 pairs of socks and have put in an order for 1700 pairs from Comfort Socks. With that number of socks, we should be able to get through until September and then we’ll start asking for winter socks,” said Smith.

Her husband, John Donovan, just sits back and takes it all in and is “extremely proud of Andrea.”

According to Smith, “Help the Homeless RI is feeding the homeless in three communities, providing items to outreach workers and church ministries to be distributed to people sleeping outside and we work with case managers and social workers to provide items for their clients. Sometimes items are sizes that aren’t likely to be donated like 5xl clothes or size 20 shoes. Other times it’s 2nd hand things like a stroller for a new mom or an air conditioner for someone in a 3rd floor apartment.”

Through Facebook, Smith created a support network for man who was sleeping in his truck, looking for work. Help the Homeless RI provided him with home cooked meals and gas cards, and he took odd jobs to sustain. He followed a lead on a pest control job, interviewed, was hired, and saved enough to get his own place.

Other examples of their achievements in helping others include: setting set up a reserve of funds at a local laundromat so homeless people in the area can use the machines free of charge just by showing an ID, a mother of three moving in to transitional housing arrived at McAuley House too late to apply for the Christmas program for her kids. Help the Homeless RI not only provided items for her kids, we were also able to provide mom with necessities and gift cards, and the fixings for a complete Christmas dinner.

They have also provided volunteers and food for over 200 at the Power of Community Day at the state house for 2 years in a row and using social media, they continue to collect non-perishable healthy food items to donate to the organization Pawtucket Backpackers. They collect 800-1000 items monthly.

“We have established a network of volunteers who routinely assist a group of people living in tents year-round. These folks never use a shelter so we help protect them from the elements. We also ensure that they are working with case managers toward obtaining housing. Our volunteers bring them hot meals, canned goods, and outdoor survival equipment,” said Smith.

They have also arranged pickup for furniture that would have otherwise been thrown away, advised folks on how to work with utility companies to lower their owed balance, and have been able to refer those who reach out to us to someone who can help.

On a regular basis, Smith and her group have organized volunteers and funding to: provide for individuals such as meals for over 100 people/week in 3 communities, collect toiletries, clothing, footwear on an as needed basis, socks as needed and have provided tents, blankets and sleeping bags.

Smith’s dream is to also secure more funding for Help The Homeless RI and provide security deposits. “The key to ending homelessness is, literally, a key to a home. Housing First approach is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing, and then provides the supportive services and connections to the community-based supports that people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness. We want to assist case managers and outreach workers in getting their clients housed,” said Smith.

At this time, Smith is leading 30 volunteers and could always use more help and donations. Contact information can be found by email at helpthehomelessri@gmail.com and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/helpthehomelessri/.

Daily, Smith among the many other volunteers, sees the hardships around her but she also sees the warmth in those who help RI’s homeless population.

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