Why did you change your name from Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless to Austin Humanists at Work?
Short answer: Because we are crazy enough to take on the task of a name change and attempt to rebrand for the sake of trying to generate more for the people we serve each month. Long answer: There are many reasons why we changed our name. First, the old name was extremely long and was a borderline tongue twister. Second, we felt the term “homeless” in the name didn’t truly represent every person who comes through our line. We also help those who have fallen on hard times and just need a little help from their community. Third, we are a group that has grown to include people from all walks of life. Volunteers include people who are atheists, agnostic, secular, freethinkers and even those who are theists. Inclusivity has made us grow stronger and more organized. While we are still very proud of who we are and where we started, we want to grow with our community and show all humans can truly help others without labels at all. We are genuinely helping because we love our city and want to help in any way we can. Lastly, we are still the same group of people who are very proud and thankful for all who have kept this organization going.
Do you “preach” nonbelief at your giveaways?
Nope. We firmly believe in a “no strings attached” model of serving people who are homeless. Everyone is welcome to get in our line and select items they need. People in line will see a sign that introduces the name of our group and some volunteers wearing Austin Humanists at Work shirts but that’s it. We are a diverse group with people from all walks of life just like the people who are standing in line. You will find no preaching from us. We come each giveaway to help others, bottom line.
Why don’t you do this more than once a month?
It’s a matter of time. Adding additional giveaways to our schedule isn’t as simple as just showing up an extra day and distributing what we have. It would spread our resources too thin. For every hour-long giveaway, there are many more hours that go into making it happen. We need time to solicit, collect, sort and log donations from the community. Time to find good deals in stores or online (then sort and log those, too). Time to write the social media and web posts that help people stay connected to what we do. Time to gather data and send reports to the Beyond Belief Network (As a registered BBN team, we earn “points” for our activities that allow us to earn cool t-shirts and apply for grants.). Time to let our core volunteers brainstorm about ways to fine tune the giveaway process to make it better and smoother each month. Time for our knitting guild to create more handmade washcloths to distribute. All this is done by people who volunteer 100% of their time to Austin Humanists at Work in addition to attending to their careers, raising families, and enjoying hobbies.
Why do you start at 9AM? That’s so early.
We like to get down there before the parking lot becomes congested with other groups who are there to serve people. Since the number of volunteers has grown, we’ve started gathering at 8:50 for quick announcements and set up before opening up the line at 9:00. We always wrap up no later than 10:00, just before the first cup of java starts to wear off.
Wouldn’t it be better to put together kits to hand out? and its sister question, Why do you only let people take one of each item?
Kits limit choices. We don’t assume to know what someone needs to make it through the next few days. These are grown adults who can choose to take a shampoo bottle instead of deodorant if they don’t need it or want it. It may seem like a small decision but it’s an empowering one if you keep this in mind: People who are homeless get told what to do a lot. Get in line here then go to that line there, don’t rest in this spot, fill out this form if you want help…
As for why we limit it to one item per bin: There are a lot of people waiting in our line each month. Serving more than 100 people in less than an hour is the norm. Limiting it to one item per bin helps us (try to) make sure there’s something for everyone. Most of the time we still run out. There are times when it feels like there’s not enough to help everyone but we remind ourselves that even though what we’re doing won’t solve the systemic problem of homelessness, it might make the next few days a little easier for some people to get by.
Why do you ask people to donate items when sending money is much easier?
At this time, we do not accept financial donations made directly payable to Austin Humanists at Work because we are not a 501(c)3 organization. However, we are currently working to apply for our 501(c)3 with hopes to help our community even more. Some people like to clean out their cabinets and donate the numerous toiletries they’ve collected during recent vacations (One donor even confessed to raiding the housekeeping cart that was left outside her hotel door!). We like the community connection that’s created when we meet donors and take an unused item from one pair of hands then put it directly into the hands of someone who can immediately use it. Donors like the fact they know exactly where their donation is going. Other people prefer to use our Amazon wishlist. Regardless of which method you choose, we consider ourselves Equal Opportunity Receivers and appreciate the donations.