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Hunger and Homelessness fights poverty with service

By Jacob Edelman

Section: Features

January 29, 2016

The Waltham Group is an umbrella service organization under which 20 service clubs operate, doing good unto the local community through coordinated volunteer activities. These clubs work with blood drives, adults with developmental disabilities, Waltham students who need tutoring and on many more community issues.

Lily Elderkin ’18 is a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Sociology double major, originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago—Park Ridge to be exact—also known as the youth homes of Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford.

Elderkin is a coordinator for the Waltham Group’s Hunger and Homelessness club. Hunger and Homelessness works with the Community Day Center in Waltham, a day shelter that provides food and case management services for individuals experiencing poverty in the Waltham area.

As a coordinator, Elderkin is responsible for more than general volunteer work. “The most important thing I do is that I run Hunger and Homelessness with four other coordinators,” she said.

There are currently multiple programs under Hunger and Homelessness’ and the coordinator’s watch. Elderkin is overseeing the case management program of the club. Describing the program, she said, “We’ll be going to the day center four days a week in two groups, spending two hours with the guests there and providing case management services. We’ll work with them on job applications, connecting them to resources in the Waltham area like legal services and healthcare and essentially just providing additional support for the Community Day Center’s regular staff.”

Two of the five coordinators are currently in training, taking a semester to feel out the extent of the group’s commitment requirements. Coordinators attend Monday night meetings with the entire Waltham Group to discuss various aspects of service. Aside from coordinator positions, students interested in service can work as general volunteers. Volunteers can work anywhere from twice per week case managing, to once a year at the Hunger and Homelessness Drive. “There are a ton of different ways to get involved,” Elderkin stated. “We have options.”

Groups within the Waltham Group often partner with each other and sometimes partner with outside organizations as well. For example, Hunger and Homelessness is hoping to host a hunger banquet this March or April with Hillel. The banquet would be intended to showcase the unjust distribution of wealth, giving some guests an opulent feast while giving a larger number of people less, perhaps only a piece of bread.

Most recently, Hunger and Homelessness attended Team Day, which was a half-day Waltham Group retreat to talk about how to make a better organization. The day involved an information session about learning how to communicate successfully with various community partners and a team building exercise—an egg drop from which Elderkin’s team emerged victorious. “It was a day to reaffirm our commitments to the Waltham Group and to learn and re-polish our skills for things that come up a lot while we’re volunteering,” Elderkin said.

Soon, Hunger and Homelessness will hold its Wellness Drive. Volunteers will go door to door, picking up clothing, basic hygiene products and personal care supplies. “Often people think of food, but there’s a lot more that goes into it. Shampoo, deodorant, tampons; whatever might be overlooked with people who are experiencing homelessness,” Elderkin noted, continuing, “It’ll probably last four to six hours, and after that we’ll donate all of the items to the Bristol Lodge, which is a night shelter in Waltham that helps a lot of people.”

Elderkin noted that one-time events can be helpful through a combination of helping others and getting more people from campus involved in service. “Our programs only help at certain times, so if you’re not free on certain afternoons and are unable to come to our programs, our one-time events provide opportunities to volunteer where there’s less commitment.”

As a group, Elderkin sees their greatest challenge as not having enough time and resources to do everything that they want to get done. “We’re all very ambitious and really care, but there’s not enough hours in the day.”

This semester, Hunger and Homelessness is running a program that has them at the Community Day Center seven days per week; however, attempting to not overextend their time and resource commitments is something that hinders many of the group’s efforts.

Many students might not be aware of the wide variety of opportunities available with the Waltham Group, so Elderkin hopes that students who desire to get involved can find a program that works for them. “Work with kids, work with adults with disabilities, or us at the day center! There are a bunch of different options and commitment levels and a bunch of cool people to work with.”

Hunger and Homelessness is currently hiring coordinators for its Wellness Drive, who will be in charge of planning the event and recruiting volunteers. Anyone at Brandeis can apply. Following the hiring and planning, the event will be held March 19.

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