Lithonia resident JaCoya Rivers formed an organization in December that is focused on giving back to the community and its population of residents experiencing homelessness.
The organization, Homies with the Homeless, is preparing to make its third drop of “blessing bags” – a quarterly giveaway that Rivers said is focused on giving items that can provide long-term assistance to those experiencing homelessness.
Homies with the Homeless was started by Rivers in 2019 as a way to give back to the community with her own money. Now—less than six months after the first giveaway—the organization boasts sponsors such as Carvana and QuikTrip.
“I moved here right before COVID and didn’t have access to the city or any of the same resources, but I wanted to do something for my new community,” said Rivers. “I had planned to go out and do what I could with my own money. You know, just giving back to locals in my area.”
Rivers added that a few of her friends joined and together they decided to create and give away “blessing bags,” but that the response she received made her realize that it needed to be more than a side project.
“The response I got from people in need and from my own journey was so impactful that I had to continue it,” Rivers added.
Rivers now has quarterly blessing bag giveaways planned. Her first drops were in December and March. She said she is currently assembling bags, volunteers, and sponsors for her third drop.
Some of the items she gives away—such as clothing and toothpaste—were inspired by social media. However, Rivers said she isn’t doing her drops for internet fame.
“I wanted to do it on a scale that was grander, like giving out something that will help long term,” she said. “I’m helping you because I respect you like a friend. Not because I want to record myself or feel pity.”
Rivers having a strategy for giving back, a legitimate organization, and a passion for the work she is doing hasn’t gone unnoticed. She said Carvana, her employer, donated $1,000 through the company’s Passion Project program to assist her with Homies with the Homeless and her blessing bags.
Carvana’s donation helped Rivers meet some of those her goals. Rivers said the additional funds have provided people with larger items such as tents and other items she couldn’t afford in the past.
“The tents are a big thing,” said Rivers. “I was only able to give out five the first time. It was heartbreaking that I didn’t have more–same with items like portable pots and pans and things to cook with, even dog food. I didn’t consider there were pets out there, and this time I had funding to buy dog food.”
The initiative hits close to home for Rivers. She said she knows people who have gone through tough times.
“No matter who you are and what you’re going through, you never know that one thing in life that is going to throw a curveball at you, trigger you, and put you in a position to be in a position where you can’t pick yourself back up,” said Rivers. “If I was homeless, I would want someone who walks past me and sees me struggling to want to help. Just knowing that someone cares and wants to help can change somebody’s world, and I saw that firsthand.”
According to Rivers, the first drop resulted in 22 bags being distributed and 80 bags were given out during the second drop. She said she has a goal of providing approximately 150 bags with her next drop and hopes to continue increasing each quarter.
She added that a continued sponsorship from Carvana and other organizations would help. Rivers said the first few camps they assisted had fewer than 10 people, but she said they have now helped camps with approximately 100 people.
For dates regarding upcoming drops, volunteer opportunities, and sponsorship information, visit homieswiththehomeless.com/home.