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Helping the Homeless on Halloween

Photo courtesy of Eric Devine


News Writer

This Halloween, one campus organization will be on the hunt to help Tampa’s homeless. Since 2013, members of Intervarsity, UT’s Christian fellowship, have set out on Halloween to go trick-or-treating, but not for candy—they hope to fill their pillowcases with canned goods.

“As Christians, we are called to have a heart for the poor, and so we got together and came up with Halloween for the Homeless as a way to bring hope to those in need,” said Eric Devine, the club president and junior mathematical programming major.

UT’s Intervarsity teams up with Intervarsity groups from HCC and USF, and students are given a map with their chosen route, neighborhoods ranging from Swan Ave to Bayshore. In total, there are around 60 participants each year. This year, many of the Intervarsity members are new to the event. One of the participants is Hannah Holmes, a UT 2013 alumna and academic counselor at the Academic Success Center. As a former Intervarsity member, she’s participated in Halloween for the Homeless twice.

“It’s a neat opportunity to connect the hearts of students at UT to the poor that live right around campus,” Holmes said. “There’s a world outside UT that’s very different.”

Of course, being a college student in a neighborhood full of young trick-or-treaters may not be easy, especially when residents realize that Intervarsity members aren’t hunting for candy. Intervarsity members even felt awkward going asking for cans from strangers.

“Everyone will take turns to be the person who talks at the door,” Holmes said. “If they give, that’s cool. If not, we move on to the next house.”

Camara Gaither, another UT alumna and a staff member for Intervarsity, assisted in Halloween for the Homeless last year by driving around the neighborhoods and picking up full bags of cans from Intervarsity members. She believes that the students’ young age gave them an advantage when it came to asking for cans. College students, who have access to showers and clean clothes, can look more approachable than someone who has been out on the streets.

“College [students] have the privilege of looking young and being able to ask for something,” Gaither said. “If someone who was homeless were to approach that neighborhood, they’d probably be shamed or ignored.”

This method allows Intervarsity to obtain food for the homeless, since they are unable to pay for it or find it themselves. According to The National Coalition for the Homeless, lack of housing and poverty are linked. Those who are impoverished struggle just to afford a meal.    

“It’s kind of uncomfortable to ask for something, but for the poor it’s a daily reality,” Holmes said. “They don’t have an option.”

So with many devoted members on board, how many cans does Intervarsity collect in one night? With just four members in Holmes’ group, they were able to collect about 12 bags, nearly filling the trunk of her 1999 Honda Civic.

As for everyone else, when they finish their route all of the cans are loaded into the bed of former UT Intervarsity staffer Josh Haupt’s pickup truck before celebration begins. While at Haupt’s home, members chat and enjoy each other’s company.

“We manage to completely fill the bed of his truck each year, sometimes weighing it down so much that the car can’t even get off the driveway,” Devine said.

This hefty load of cans, which Devine said was too many to count, is later delivered to The Well, a locally-run nonprofit organization. As listed on The Well’s website, every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., The Well runs what is called the Free Market, which allows the homeless to go in and fill a bag with whatever they need for free. According to The National Coalition for the Homeless, “46 million Americans visit food-sharing programs annually,” like The Well.

“It is a locally owned and run food pantry, support center, and shelter for the homeless population started and run by members of The Underground church network, which our Intervarsity chapter participates in,” Devine said.

The Underground church network is made up of micro-churches, or small groups of Christians who range from students to ministers that don’t meet in a traditional church. Instead, they meet in homes or other buildings.
As for this year, Intervarsity will stick with their usual plans, due to how successful Halloween for the Homeless has been in the past. Students will be meeting up at 6 p.m. in the Vaughn Courtyard before heading out to Bayshore and Hyde Park. All students are welcome to participate.

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