Lauren Purnell, a 21-year-old Burlington County resident, has sought to positively impact her community through identifying and defeating the stigma of homelessness, and also by providing a place for volunteers and local residents to come together to inspire one another. Purnell created the Burlington County Community Service Facebook page in hopes of doing just that.
Purnell is a senior at Rowan University pursuing a degree in journalism. However, prior to finding her career and interning at the Burlington County Times, Purnell took her first journalism class as a sophomore in high school.
To hone in on her journalism skills, Purnell began to develop a blog called Naming The Homeless. In this venture, she and her mother, Kathy Parise, provided insight into the inner workings of the homeless community. The blog’s purpose is to provide a voice for the voiceless and to rehumanize the homeless community in the eye of society.
“Connecting with people, providing a voice to the voiceless and sharing their stories are some of the best parts of the blog,” said Purnell, the former Burlington Township resident. ”I was always into community service. I was in the Girl Scouts for 13 years and we always would come up with original community service ideas. As I grew older, I started to get even more involved with community service.
“When my mom and I first started to do the blog, I was very ambitious,” Purnell continued. “Me and my mom would go out to Philly, We originally started walking around 30th Street Station, but now we walk around Center City near Market Street. We would stop and talk to someone, and what we wanted to do was to find out what led them to this lifestyle, what have they learned about the experience, how people treated them etc. They were so willing to talk because people typically don’t talk to them.”
According to Purnell, it broke her heart to not be able to give something to everyone she saw in need. During the first outing, Purnell and her mom only brought one large care package, however, as word grew about their efforts in combating homelessness, people started to donate to her cause, which allowed her to create smaller packages for the people she was not interviewing at the time. The Interact club at Florence Memorial High School and the Riverfront Cares Club at Riverfront Middle School are some of the organizations that help in the efforts to develop the care packages.
The large care packages that Purnell created typically included clothes, shampoo, conditioner, soap, wipes, tissues, underwear, socks, hair ties, brushes, notebooks, pens, gloves, snacks, cookies, chips, a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, plates and utensils. Smaller care packages may include these items as well as hand sanitizer and travel size items.
“When I listen to the people I meet, they are actually teaching me something,” said Purnell. “The feeling I get when I help them out is indescribable, but since I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t had the time to do it as much. I wanted to create the Burlington County Community Service Page because I know how supportive my community has been in my efforts and I wanted to make a page to give everyone the opportunity to post about community service or inspiring good deeds they’ve done or witnessed.”
“I had the idea to start the page a few weeks ago,” Purnell continued. “At first, I only shared it with friends and family, but yesterday [Monday, June 10] was the first time I put it into the community pages. In one day, the page got over 200 new group members.
“It makes me feel good to know that there is an interest for community service in the community,” said Purnell. “This page is able to centralize the conversation and keep the conversation going.”
Those looking to get involved with community service and potential volunteers can go to the Burlington County Community Service Facebook page. Also, those interested in getting involved with Purnell’s Naming the Homeless efforts can go to the Naming the Homeless Facebook page.