Morgan O'Brien HR Headshot for web

Small Efforts Make Big Differences: Five Ways You Can Help Stop Hunger and Homelessness in Your Community

By Morgan O’Brien, CEO, Peoples Natural Gas Company LLC 

Last winter, Susan, a mother of three, contacted 2-1-1 with concerns that she couldn’t pay her rent or feed her children if she paid her heating bill on time. Knowing that this family was in danger of losing their home, Peoples, United Way and PA 2-1-1 Southwest committed to helping Susan and her kids during their time of struggle thanks to Peoples Gas’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

At Peoples, we see every day as an opportunity to bring our mission to life – making peoples’ lives better through our core values of safety, customer commitment, trust and community – and helping Susan was no exception. Our work doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however; teamwork is a critical catalyst for our work.

Just as United Way, Peoples and 2-1-1 have teamed up to address real concerns in our area and ensure reliable support systems for people facing hardships, you and a team of your family, friends or coworkers also have the power to make compelling contributions to people confronting issues like hunger, warmth or even homelessness in your community. And we’ve learned when a family is struggling with a crisis in one of those essential human services, they are most likely suffering in other areas as well. People tend to just focus on the crisis of the day.

You don’t have to be a CEO of a company to do your part in the community – anyone can be a hero. Donating the clothing your family has outgrown makes you a hero. Delivering extra canned goods to a nearby food shelter makes you a hero. There are no insignificant deeds when it comes to helping people. I encourage anyone interested in eliminating hunger and homelessness in their community to consider the following five opportunities.

1. Remove judgement – embrace empathy.
You never know a person’s background by looking at them, so set aside any preconceived notions before getting involved. Instead of assuming someone’s story, take a step back, get to know them and objectively list the ways you can help introduce positive change into their life. Picture your loved ones in that person’s journey.

2. Educate yourself – become enlightened.
Knowledge is power. Reading, researching and educating yourself about the concerns of hunger and homeless is integral to creating change. Once you see how it impacts your community – families, kids, neighbors – you can help establish a process that prevents its return. Educate yourself on resources and programs we have in our community.

3. Get involved – own the issues in our region.
From preparing homeless “survival kits” (basic toiletries, water bottles, rain ponchos, nonperishable snacks) to hosting a clothing drive or spending the afternoon at a soup kitchen, the actions you can take to help struggling neighbors are endless. These moments add up to create a big impact on the greater good of the community. Life is a journey and every step forward, no matter how small, takes us in a positive direction. And when we set the example and volunteer our time as adults, our children will do the same later in life.

4. Remember 2-1-1 – leverage this amazing asset.
United Way’s PA 2-1-1 Southwest is an easy-to-remember telephone number and web resource for finding human services – for everyday needs and in crises. In 2018, PA 2-1-1 Southwest answered 119,346 inquiries for help, where highly-trained Resource Navigators guided people to supports like essential human needs resources, physical and mental health resources, and employment support. When a neighbor, coworker or friend feel like they’re out of options, remind them of this resource. Someone on the other line always answers the call.

5. Demonstrate Kindness – make someone’s life better.
A human connection – whether through establishing eye contact, smiling or sharing a few kind words – has the power to change lives. These small acts can reaffirm the humanity of an individual at a time when hunger or homelessness seems to have stripped it away.

In Pennsylvania alone, more than 16,000 people are experiencing homelessness on any given day, and more than a million people face hunger. Through the partnership between Peoples, United Way and 2-1-1, we will continue to find new and innovative ways of working together to help struggling families. When you team up with us, too, the future is indeed bright.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, big or small, please dial 2-1-1. To volunteer in our community, please visit https://volunteer.uwswpa.org/.