Lauren Weaver (Image: LaurensWay.com)
While many might avert their eyes when passing by the homeless, Lauren Weaver doesn't ignore them. She worries about them. In fact, she's the heart of a growing operation called "Lauren's Way" that helps provide some of Florida's homeless with the items they need most -- and she's only 12 years old.
The story of Lauren's Way started five years ago, though, when girl was 7 years old. Living near a park in Vero Beach, Ryan Weaver explained that his daughter frequently saw the same homeless man there.
She would ask questions like "Why is he dirty?" "Why does he look so sad?" and "Where does he eat and sleep?" Ryan told TheBlaze.
"I had never been put in that place and being that young ... I thought everyone had a home, parents and a warm bed," Lauren told us. "I was sad and worried about him."
Encouraging her to think of something she might be able to do, the then second grader told her parents she wanted to give him a Christmas present. Taking $25 from the money she had been saving for an iPod -- a sum which her parents said they would match for the gift -- Lauren took to the store to purchase items that the local homeless shelter told her family a man like the one she saw might need most. Fifty dollars though didn't make one box, it made seven.
"I had seen him so many times. So many times," Lauren recalled. "When I finally got to talk to him, he was so nice."
When she presented the man in the park with a wrapped shoe box filled with toiletries and other items, Lauren said she thought, "Wow, what I am doing is really helping the life of another."
The man told her that he hadn't gotten a present since he was a boy.
"And then my dad told me, 'Now you know the true meaning of Christmas,'" Lauren said.
The Weaver family -- parents Ryan and Melissa (back) and Lauren and her sister Sara -- at the Indian River County National Philanthropy Day Award Ceremony where Lauren was recognized as Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy in November. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Weaver)
The other boxes she made were given to a local shelter. From that year forward, "Lauren's Way" was established and her Christmas box initiative, among others to help the homeless in her community, grew. And that's captured in the mission statement for Lauren's Way:
Lauren’s Way is my mission I started at age 7 to help the homeless and needy of my community – Indian River County, Florida.
Following the example of the “Good Samaritan”, my goal was to help people at their most basic point of need.
"Some people look at [the homeless] like bums and just people on the street," Lauren said of the misconceptions some might have, including that many are there of their own choices and doing. "They're good people like us. They just happen to be homeless."
Ryan explained in the second year, the family helped Lauren make 39 boxes, the third 110, the fourth 150, and this year will see 150 boxes as well. It's now an operation that takes up their multi-car garage as well as a storage unit donated to the cause. Lauren said many of the neighborhood children and those at her school get involved. Going more specifically into what is included in the gift boxes, Lauren quickly rattles off a list from the top of her head. Here's what we were fast enough to jot down:
- Mosquito repellent
- A blanket
- Daily hygiene items, among them deodorant, soap and a wash cloth
- First Aid kit
- Rain poncho
Here Lauren displays one of her boxes. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Weaver)
Although Lauren hasn't given out gifts in person since the man in the park -- she's works with local organizations to distribute them -- it's something she wants to do again.
This is not to say that Lauren hasn't personally seen the effects of the efforts she and others have put in though. At a fundraising event held at a local restaurant, Lauren was approached by a waiter.
"He said, 'Lauren, I want to tell you something. Last year, I got one of your boxes. It really touched me and it meant everything to me,'" Lauren said, explaining further that he had been homeless at the time he received the box but now was back on his feet.
Lauren's Way has gone beyond boxes, too, helping collect canned food items and more than $1,300 last year that helped purchase 10 bicycles.
Lauren's latest goal is to raise $10,000, which will be matched, to build a larger dining area at the locl Homeless Family Center. Lauren's mother Melissa said the designs for new pavilions were drafted pro-bono by a local engineer. So far, $5,000 has been raised for the effort they hope will begin this summer.
Learn more about Lauren's Way and how you can donate, if you're interested, here. The money collected through the Lauren's Way Fund is administered by Indian River Community Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
Editor's note: If you know of any interesting ways those in your local community are trying to help others, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.