Mariah Smith started Blankets for the Homeless when she was only 17 years old. She remembers eating at a fast food restaurant and seeing a homeless man nearby, shivering in the autumn night. Mariah felt called to grab a blanket out of her car, collect up the food she’d just ordered and run over to aid him. That sparked her passion to help others and galvanize her community. She and her adoptive mother drive the streets of Hampton Roads, VA four times a week, distributing blankets, bagged lunches, clothes, toiletries and other items to area homeless people.
Mariah feels a special bond with the people she supports: she was abandoned by her birth mother on the day she was born, Christmas Eve. Because of her past, she says that she, too, was once homeless.
Mariah and Blankets for the Homeless have distributed more than 80,000 blankets, lunches, hats, gloves, hoodies, and back packs to the homeless. The groundswell for this effort happened when she posted flyers around town asking for blankets. The immediate response from the flyers showed Mariah she could do something big.
Through her work, she encounters all sorts of groups interested in hearing about the problem and the solution. Mariah garners support for her cause through speaking engagements at schools, businesses, and every Sunday she speaks at a different church. She also maintains several drop boxes throughout the community where people can donate new or used items to be distributed. This allows people to help without having to do it themselves and enables Mariah to give the homeless things that they need. She also created a campaign encouraging the public to put five non-perishable food items and five blankets in their cars to have on hand when they encounter homeless people seeking help on the road.
Having started her cause at a young age, Mariah sees how she has grown and developed skills that can make her successful in the future. She has had to learn how to make her case for support and ask for donations. She has given public speeches in front of large audiences and appeared on The 700 Club, telling her story about the loss and confusion she felt from being abandoned. Learn more about her efforts at http://www.blanketsforthehomeless.org
Mariah has had to step outside her comfort zone to help others be more comfortable. She draws strength for this enterprise from her adopted mother and says they have grown closer through their service, done side-by-side. “She is my partner and my biggest supporter,” Mariah says. “She is incredible.” Mariah’s story drew national interest in 2014 when she was named a semi-finalist in the L’Oreal of Paris Women of Worth program.
In addition to positively impacting people who are homeless, Mariah has motivated local Girl Scouts and elementary school students to help make lunches to distribute. “There is an amazing community here, and so many have stepped forward to help,” says Mariah. “I see young people getting inspired so they can make a difference. I see adults changing their perceptions about homelessness.”
Who are the people in your community quietly leading positive change? Nominate an exceptional volunteer for a Daily Point of Light Award at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination