Eleanor Donley, 11, realized the money from her “giving jar” wouldn’t be enough to buy all the things she wanted to give to the people she’d met at a homeless shelter.
So she came up with an even better way to help them: organizing a collection drive through her church.
With the blessing of her parents and her pastor, she launched a drive at Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine last year, asking congregants to donate deodorant, socks and other basic necessities.
Eleanor hoped to collect 250 items — far more than her jar money could buy.
After four weeks, she surpassed her goal. It took two sport utility vehicles to haul the more than 600 donated goods to Our Saviour’s Housing in Minneapolis.
“It just made me feel good to help other people,” Eleanor said. “I get a lot of things. Some people don’t even have a home.”
She first became aware of the plight of homeless people three years ago when she joined her father in volunteering to serve dinners at the shelter.
“That was her first experience seeing people in need and seeing that there is a greater purpose in your life for helping others,” recalled Alyssa Donley, Eleanor’s mother.
After serving the dinners, Eleanor would often ask shelter staff members what kinds of things the residents needed most. They would show her the shelter’s list and she would use a portion of her allowance and birthday money that she designated for giving to purchase a few items.
The faces of the homeless people at the shelter became familiar to her, as she got to know them and their struggles.
“A lot of people that I talked to said they slept in their truck or in their car,” Eleanor said.
She told her pastor that she wanted to do more to help them, and the idea for the drive was born. Starting it on her own made her a little nervous, her mother said.
Eleanor had to speak before the whole congregation, explaining the purpose of the collection drive and how it would work. With help from others at the church, Eleanor made a “giving tree” out of a large tree branch and attached die-cut flowers to it. On each flower was a label listing a needed item. The tree occupied a prominent spot inside the church where congregants could, in Eleanor’s words, “take a flower and feel God’s power.”
Soon, the donated socks, soap, bus cards and other goods started to pile up.
Halfway through the collection drive, Eleanor and her two younger brothers sorted and counted everything. They took two full bags to the shelter.
Still, the donations continued to pour in.
“It was wonderful to see how people rallied around her idea,” Alyssa said. “A kid coming to a congregation with an idea is really appealing to a lot of people.”
Although Eleanor has wrapped up her charity project, she continues to be involved in finding ways to help the homeless. She’s active in Hope 4 Youth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless youths in the north metro suburbs. And based on the success of her last collection drive, she plans to do another one soon.
Eleanor was amazed at the impact it made, her mother said.
“Her little idea was pretty big.”
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488 • @allieshah