Seated at the Keizertimes conference table, the creators of The Giving Hearts, a local two-person organization that collects and gives away clothing to the less fortunate, Elinizzy Rodriguez and Barbara Holbrook told their story about why they began providing clothes to the homeless.
“The reason why I came forward is because [the homeless] need help. We have encountered naked people. I saw this man literally just naked and nearly frozen with a blanket on top of him. We dressed him up with all we had left, which were women’s clothes, but he was so skinny everything fit him,” Rodriguez said.
Sights like these, according to Rodriguez and Holbrook, spurred the creation of their group and the results they get only adds to their motivation.
Both also described how, due to their own experiences with homelessness, they better understand the plight homeless in the area experience and empathize with them, something they note has only helped them.
“Some of them will stop if they feel comfortable and talk to us about how they’re feeling at the moment and a lot of them tell us they don’t choose to be out there,” Rodriguez continued.
“They’re tired of people looking down at them like they’re less. They’re tired of people cursing at them. They are human beings.”
Rodriguez noted the difference an act as small as giving clothes does as that same naked, near-frozen man they dressed quickly recovered. “Next thing you know, he got up and like 10 minutes later he was walking around and talking,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and Holbrook also spoke to their overall goal for The Giving Hearts, noting that the giveaways won’t stop with clothing.
“My goal is to have a building where I can have a closet for people that they could just walk in and not have to worry about how much it’s going to cost because it’s nothing. Half of it will have clothes and the other half will have a kitchen with a sitting table because I love to cook,” finished Rodriguez.
Speaking to how they collect and distribute clothes, Rodriguez described a typical process, which usually occurs every 2 – 3 days.
With just the two of them, each takes a large beach wagon as well as other needed supplies as they head out to collect, noting how good Keizer has been when collecting and giving out donations.
“We pack up water and wrap the wagons with tarps and bungee cords,” Rodriguez began.
“We knock on the door and I take a few steps back so people do not feel intimidated. I say: Hi, my name is Eli and this is Barbie and we’re here doing something for the homeless. If you give the clothes to us, we go personally and we give it to the [homeless] people,” said Rodriguez.
“That’s when I pull out my phone and I show them what we do. Some people cry because they can’t believe it. They cry and they hug us. It’s a beautiful thing. I love it.”
After the clothing is collected, the two travel all over the Salem-Keizer area giving it away, free of charge or referral. They spoke about going to camps on Fisher Road, Lancaster Drive, Hawthorne Avenue and Portland Road most recently to name a few locations.
One issue Rodriguez spoke of was how some businesses, like Goodwill, will collect clothes under the notion of donating to the needy but will instead turn around and mark up the price of the clothes or make it difficult for those who are homeless to get them.
“Goodwill forgot about their purpose. I went to Goodwill and they won’t give me anything unless I have a referral. There were times that I lost my ID moving from room to room and I could not get any clothes,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez described the difficulty of this project as not only do they have just two people to collect and distribute clothing, but they conduct the whole process on foot.
“I do not have a car but my legs can take me anywhere. I am so passionate about this. I won’t give up on [the homeless] because they need help and I want to be able to help them as much as I can,” stated Rodriguez.
This desire to help has been something both women spoke to as a lifelong desire, regardless if the result of that aid was beneficial to them or not.
“I used to get in so much trouble with managers because I gave employee discounts to people that came in. I guess ever since I was a little kid, I always have had this thing for helping other people,” said Rodriguez.
Holbrook also spoke to her past of giving, describing how The Giving Hearts was not her first time providing services to the homeless.
“I used to go and give people clothes all the time. I’d cook for them and they would have a whole bunch of people at this one camp. I’d cook for all of them,” said Holbrook.
The Giving Hearts group expressed a strong desire for anyone interested in helping or learning more to reach out to The Giving Hearts page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2102474510099650/?mibextid=c7yyfP.
Rodriguez and Holbrook can also be reached at 971-374-4425 or 503-569-0156 respectively.