Advocates for awareness

A group of Bucks highschoolers raised $500 for local nonprofit serving the homeless

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

“This seed has been planted at a young age. Don’t let it stop,” said Penny Martin, founder and board president of Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need.

A large group of students earlier this month stood jam-packed in a Bensalem High School classroom. This wasn’t your average after-school meeting. For the past year, BHS’s Community Service Club has been working to raise $500 for the nonprofit Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need, and on this particular day, it was recognized for its dedication to giving back to the community.

Making a difference: The members of the Bensalem High School Community Service Club were presented with a plaque by Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need for their four years of dedicated volunteer service. SAMANTHA BAMBINO TIMES PHOTO

Though the Community Service Club volunteers for and raises money for various organizations, its primary focus this year was Advocates for Homeless, a Bucks County nonprofit that serves the homeless and those in need by providing year-long access to emergency shelter, food and other life-sustaining services. The club has been involved with Advocates for four years, raising money for clothing and food. Over that span of time, the students raised $1,500.

The recognition ceremony was sponsored by the Bensalem Rotary/Interact Club. According to Rotary Director Marc Cohen, it was extremely easy to get the community service club involved in volunteering for Advocates thanks to adviser Valerie Reti, and student president Hetvi Patel. The students have contributed more than 1,200 hours of volunteer time, adding more charitable events to their efforts each year.

“This year was one of the best,” Cohen said. “They broke all their records for volunteering and raised the most money.”

To collect the $500, which was used to purchase winter clothing for the homeless, the students solicited funds from friends, family and community members asking for only a $1 donation. They also hosted activities at the annual Fleah concert at Parx Casino including face painting and balloons for kids. According to BSHS teacher Mr. CJ Mills, the students received numerous compliments at the event, which he said has never been so well run.

“People kept asking who are all of these great kids from Bensalem High School,” Mills said.

Even after all of their hard work over the past year, the community service club wasn’t done. On the day of the recognition ceremony, it presented Advocates for Homeless with not only the check for $500, but an extra $37 it collected at the last minute.

“That’s half of a hotel stay when they’re out on the street,” Martin said.

The mission of Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need is to create a community where no one is homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. Martin’s quest to eradicate homelessness in her community began in 2009 at a Valentine’s Day dinner at Emilie United Methodist Church. Several members of Emilie’s congregation had befriended residents at a homeless encampment along the canal in Levittown and invited them to the dinner. Sadly, only a few attended, so the leftover food was delivered to the encampment. Seeing their living arrangements was a serious wake up call to Martin. Before this, she never knew how many people in her own community were in need of basic life necessities.

Martin began hosting monthly meetings at Emilie, eventually creating the first Bucks County Code Blue Emergency Shelter, which opened its doors in winter 2009. Soon after, the Those in Need mission and Homeless Out Reach Team were created for those requiring temporary assistance with shelter, food, clothing and transportation. The Wheels to Meals mission was formed in 2010 to transport the homeless to “houses of worship” for shared meals, as well as the Rejuvenation Station for showers, haircuts and personal hygiene needs.

“We don’t have them standing with a cup in front of a 7–11,” said Frank Goldstein, board member of Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need. “They’re cared for.”

Advocates for Homeless just completed its eighth Code Blue Shelter season, with shelters in Lower, Middle and Upper Bucks County. Some 3,109 hours of time were donated by Code Blue volunteers, up to 43 shelter guests were able to sleep soundly each night and 1,613 bus guests were transported to the shelter.

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