There he is again, I thought to myself. While traveling to and from school, I had seen the same homeless man with the shaggy beard and ripped jeans in the middle of State Road 436 for three consecutive days holding his “God bless” sign in his weathered hands. Until recently, I did not realize the severity of homelessness in my community. Currently there are 35,964 homeless people living in the state of Florida, 8,000 of which live in my county.
For years, I volunteered monthly at a large food pantry with my Boy Scout Troop. Eventually, I recognized the need for smaller localized pantries. The smaller pantries are equally as important as the big distribution centers because they are the means to feed neighborhoods. After ruminating on this need for a while, I made a few calls, which ultimately led me to the owner of a blighted motel. I met the owner and we came up with a vision of how his impaired building could be transformed from an eyesore to a place of hope. For my Eagle Scout Project, he gave me permission to lead a construction team to renovate and convert his rundown complex into a small, localized food pantry office. The project was full of stops and starts. The first obstacle required a change of location. The motel owner was forced to move locations to retain his 501-C status, so I packed up my plans and moved to another dilapidated motel. After the delay, I raised $1700 from my community for construction expenses, in addition to securing $1000 worth of carpeting.
Then began the actual work. For the next six Saturdays, my dad and I woke up at 6:30, stopped by Home Depot to purchase materials for the day, and then headed to the motel to labor until late afternoon. I had to figure out how to rip up tile, remove shabby doors, and take all the measurements needed for renovating the office. During construction, we realized there were some potential environmental concerns and had to temporarily delay work until an environmental specialist gave us the green light to continue with the project.
Most workdays, I invited friends to assist with the labor. In total, I rallied a team of 20 volunteers who contributed to the project. Two of the volunteers particularly stand out in my mind. Both of these men were thrown into unfortunate circumstances and ended up homeless. They lacked self-esteem and purpose. Volunteering their time and carpentry skills to the food pantry project caused a shift in their perspectives. It was clear their contribution to a good cause helped them change their attitudes toward their current situations and about themselves.
After six long weeks of intense labor, we finally finished the project. We built two 20’ x 8’ nonload-bearing drywall walls, hung a door, leveled the floor by adding cement where necessary, laid new carpet, designed and installed a glass block window, replaced a wooden ceiling beam, and painted the entire office. I am thrilled this new food pantry will help the underserved population in my community. Until the food pantry was completed, there were no grocery stores—only convenience stores with unhealthy snack foods—in this part of the city.
What began with seeing a homeless man on my daily commute to school ended in a project changing the lives of many, including myself. I learned the invaluable lesson of working together to accomplish seemingly insurmountable goals. I may not be able to change the world, but I’ve discovered I can change my corner of it.