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Kiwanians fight effects of homelessness

Aug 02, 2013
Stuff-a-bus

Have you ever observed something that inspired a service project? Being aware of community needs has established three projects and created a niche for the Bozeman, Montana, Kiwanis Club.

Such observations have given life to three projects that almost seem to define the club’s place in the Bozeman community.

While volunteering at a school, Bozeman Kiwanian Amber Guth noticed that many of the students lacked clothing suitable for the community’s harsh winters. Her observation proved well-founded.

“Twenty percent of Bozeman and its surrounding communities live at or below poverty level,” she says. “This means that roughly 20,000 of the 100,000 people in Gallatin County can't afford three meals a day and certainly can't afford things like new coats, gym shoes and costly school supplies each year. While we do have many organizations looking out for the betterment of our youth, none of them are prepared to assist 20,000.” 

The result of Guth’s casual observation three years ago is the club’s Kiwanis Closet, which has provided more than 4,000 individuals with shoes, clothing, school supplies and referrals to other organizations. First known as Stuff-A-Bus to signify how donations were collected, the project was renamed to Kiwanis Closet once it obtained a permanent location.

“My passion for these kids and their families comes from my own childhood and my struggles as a single mother,” she says.

Passion is a more than suitable word for Guth’s endeavors. She’s proved a talent for bringing groups together for the benefits of children in need. As a member of the Greater Gallatin Homeless Action Coalition, for example, she connected the Montana Food Bank Network and school officials with the state’s homeless education coordinator to improve services to homeless students.

“She’s also organizing makeovers, dresses, prom tickets, dining and rides for disadvantaged youth for Bozeman and Belgrade High School proms who normally could not attend their programs,” adds club Secretary Mary Brydich.

Guth isn’t the only member with a heart for those struggling to make ends meet. Other members have found alternative ways of contributing to the same goal.

“At my first Kiwanis meeting, there was a speaker from Bozeman High School who spoke to us about student homeless and their needs,” says member Teresa Lerner. “It really hit home when she talked about the number of homeless students in our community and how many of them go hungry each day. Teens really don't like to be singled out and most do not or cannot get to the food bank or other agency for help.”

Noticing the amount of leftovers after the club’s lunch buffet, Lerner worked with the venue to bring them to the alternative high school for a teacher to distribute. “The teacher just tells them the food is from Kiwanis club, so there is no stigma attached,” she adds.

And when the community’s Toys for Tots program became too broad for the Marine Corps and American League to handle, Kiwanians joined forces with the Lions Club to provide toys and food baskets during the holiday season.

 “In 2012, we provided gifts to 1,491 children, helped 591 families and distributed 347 food baskets in six counties,” Brydich, the project’s president, proudly shares.

But the club’s commitment to poverty and homelessness isn’t limited to their community. Members also join other Kiwanians in the Montana District to fill backpacks with basic toiletries and clothing for children pulled from their homes due to a crisis and entered into foster care.

“I feel it is our calling as Kiwanians to do something,” Guth says simply.  —Courtney Meyer

Have a Kiwanis story to share? Send it to shareyourstory@kiwanis.org for consideration.

What have community surveys taught your Kiwanis club about needs it can fill? Tell us in the comment section below.