Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Giving Spirit

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles

The Giving Spirit is an all-volunteer, Los Angeles-based non-profit, non-denominational organization that unites volunteers to reach out to local individuals and families who are homeless. Twice a year volunteers gather to assemble survival kits (inside backpacks) filled with food and personal hygiene items.

The volunteers then take the backpacks to the homeless, so they don’t have to travel long distances carrying all their worldly goods (or leaving them unguarded). The Giving Spirit meets them where they are. Over the past eleven years, 6,000 volunteers have delivered a total of more than 13,000 kits to souls on the street. Over 95% of every donation directly supports the homeless outreach effort, creating one of the lowest charitable organization
overheads.

I recently sat down with the founder of The Giving Spirit, Tom Bagamane, for an interview.

JournEzine: How did the The Giving Spirit come about?

Tom Bagamane: I grew up in Washington D.C. If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C. in the wintertime you’ll see homeless individuals camping out on steam-grates that surround the national monuments and federal buildings. It just got to the point where I was so disgusted with my city not taking care of these people that I went to my sister and said, “Look, we have tons of stuff, why don’t we take our money, that we were going to spend on each other and
take care of these people.”

She agreed. We went and bought army blankets from an army surplus store. We went to the grocery store and filled a number of grocery bags with non-perishables, fresh fruit, water and juice. During the Christmas season, when it was bitter cold in Washington D.C., we would cover these homeless folks, who were sleeping, with a blanket. We would also drop a bag of stuff at their feet, at night. When they woke up, they were warmer and they had food, and they didn’t know where it came from. Maybe they thought it was an angel that came to them in the evening and answered their prayers.

I moved out to Los Angeles and saw that the homeless population was in epidemic proportions. In 1999, I was at a party at someone’s house and I was talking about the situation here. I told them what I did in Washington D.C., said, “Why don’t we do that for this December?” Three hands went up and that’s how The Giving Spirit started. We helped 40 people over three days; we packed 40 shopping bags and raised about $2500. Fast forward to 2010, we have a week’s worth of activities, we have 1000 volunteers who come from all over the country and we will raise $200, 000 and we will help 2640 people.

JournEzine: How exactly do you help people?

Tom Bagamane: Our aid is direct, we find these people where they are, and we take the survival kits to them. A lot of these people, if they turn their backs on their worldly goods, they’ll be gone. Some of them are mentally incapacitated and it would be a struggle to find us, so we go to them. With 60, 000 homeless people walking the streets of Los Angeles, it’s not hard for us to find them. After 11 years, we know where they are.

We can’t be there for all 60,000 folks, but our small part has made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives, not just to the ones who receive, but also to the ones who give. You see transformation of people’s views of poverty and homelessness. We lift the veil of homelessness and shown a real homeless individual to these people. At the end of the day, homeless people are much more like us than we care to know or acknowledge.

A couple of bad decisions or things out of their control caused them to lose their jobs, cars, insurance and homes. We have so many things that we take for granted, a refrigerator to keep food from spoiling, a stove to cook it, a door to lock and keep predators away. Can you imagine what it is like to sleep on concrete every night? How can you have a peaceful sleep? No security, no solace.

It’s aid that will make a difference right there on the spot: food, toothpaste, toothbrush, It’s amazing how many diseases can come through bad teeth. Unlike a lot of charities in Los Angeles, we don’t have big celebrity power behind us. Charities with celebrities raise the most money, but a lot of it goes to operations. We’re different in that we are all volunteers and 95 cents of every dollar goes back to the street.

JournEzine: How does your Christian faith play a role in this?

Tom Bagamane: We’re non-denominational; we have people of all faiths and no faiths working with us. But here we are in a church; we’re putting together these survival kits in a church. And when I speak to our volunteers tonight, there is a cross behind me. I am a firm believer that we tee it up and God knocks it out. The bible talks about grace, so obviously how we treat everyone here and treat the homeless in the street, we try to do it from grace and love, that’s the Christian faith.

We try to leave our judgment at the door because when we’re on the street, someone who needs your aid could have a crack pipe in his or her pocket, but it’s important to let go and let God take care of the judging part. We’re there to help them when they’re freezing and starving. That is as Christian and as Christ-like as I can imagine. I’m going to speak to our volunteers in a few minutes and before I get up there I remember that this is God’s mission and I want God to speak through me, let His words come out of my mouth to express what God wants to express.
JournEzine: You have adults volunteering to help, but also kids.

Tom Bagamane: One of the biggest things we’re committed to is educating children. How can we insure this help continues after we are gone? That’s getting kids to understand that the true meaning of poverty is. We have seen a lot kids grow up through this organization and they pick their colleges on the kind of community services they provide.


If you would like to contribute to The Giving Spirit, please click here.

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