As the COVID-19 pandemic touches everyone’s life in some way, shape or form, times have gotten tougher for those already struggling to find their next meal.
With the homeless feeling more of the pandemic’s impact, Liz Schneider created Street Love, a charity organization dedicated to feeding Atlantic City’s homeless population. Inspired by Schneider’s work, Cherry Hill residents Raina Tallent and Jen Sakaleros created a township chapter of the organization and now organize efforts to help feed, clothe and help Camden County’s homeless populations.
When COVID struck, bathrooms, water fountains and other public facilities in Atlantic City were shut down and the lines for homeless shelters grew long, leaving locals without homes even more vulnerable. Schneider, a Philadelphia resident who spends her summers in Ventnor, said when she saw what was happening, she felt compelled to do something.
So she went into her kitchen, gathered whatever food she had and drove around Atlantic City, rolling down her window and asking those in need if they were hungry. When Shneider got back home, she decided her outreach should not just be a one-day effort, so she returned daily to feed whomever she could.
Schneider mentioned what she was doing to someone on her street and word quickly spread. Soon her fellow residents were dropping off lunches for Schneider to distribute.
“The people on my street were amazing; I didn’t realize how many people on one little street would come together,” she said.
When Schneider realized how expensive it is to distribute food every day, she began making beaded bracelets to sell for a donation of $5. Not long after, a neighbor joined Schneider in her food distribution and suggested the effort needed a name. They settled on “Street Love.”
“We take the love from our street and are giving the love to people on another street,” Schneider explained.
The charity has since become a nonprofit, and Schneider raised nearly $13,000 through bracelet sales. The money is used to buy food and other supplies.
During the summer months, Tallent and Sakaleros met Schneider in an exercise class at the Shore. Schneider was selling bracelets, and the Cherry Hill pair were immediately interested in supporting her efforts.
They asked how they could get involved and began making lunches to drop off to Schneider. When they returned home from their summer stays in Margate, Tallent and Sakaleros wanted to keep the momentum going, so they decided to open their own chapter in Cherry Hill.
“We fell in love with the cause,” Sakaleros said.
Within two weeks after returning home, they got their chapter up and running. The pair connected with a woman (who prefers to remain anonymous) doing outreach work in Camden that Tallent knew through some of her previous volunteer efforts.
So she and Sakaleros set to work making sandwiches and asking friends and family in the area to donate. They put out the call on a Wednesday, and by Friday, they had 200 sandwiches ready for distribution. The anonymous woman drove them to spots around Camden, and together, they passed out food to those in need.
Tallent said she and Sakaleros are only in the early stages of their chapter, and there is talk about how to make the biggest impact. The two are selling bracelets and trying to generate funds to support their efforts.
The plan is to distribute sandwiches at least once a month, but Tallent and Sakaleros don’t want to stop there. They got connected with a social worker in Camden and plan to purchase blankets, pillows and jackets for at-risk youth. The overarching goal is just to help in whatever small way they can.
Tallent said she and Sakaleros are also working on a holiday wish list for about 30 financially disadvantaged kids. They are growing their chapter on social media and hosted an event at Beagle Club Playground in Voorhees on Oct. 17 to spread the word about their outreach.
Since starting the chapter, the two women have heard from locals who asked how they could help, and they’re happy to accept any level of support people can give, whether it’s making a sandwich, writing a check or buying a wish-list item. Tallent said with children stuck at home, her hope is that the women’s Street Love chapter will serve as an outlet to get students off the computer and involved in something meaningful.
“It’s just the beginning; I think we’re getting there, really making an impact,” Tallent said.
To learn more about Street Heart, visit their Instagram page at @streetheartlove609 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/street.heart.35762.