After hosting two annual donation drives for homeless veterans, Giving To Those Who Gave is building on the success and turning this year's drive into a social event.
"I want it to be like last year and be in complete awe at how many people come," said John Ryan, who began the project to benefit homeless veterans at Kent's Freedom House shelter in 2011.
The charity's first donation drive delivered a pickup truck bed full of food, clothing and more to Freedom House. Last year, contributions increased to more than 200 canned goods, 30 pounds of coffee, 26 blankets, pillows and pillow cases, $165 in gift cards, $100 cash and more.
"It was really, really good -- better than I could have expected," Ryan said. "The only disappointment from last year was that people would just come, drop stuff off and then leave."
Giving To Those Who Gave is hosting this year's donation drive from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Kent United Church of Christ, 1400 E. Main St.
In addition to dropping off donations, Ryan said he'll provide cookies, hot cocoa, coffee, play Christmas films, sell T-shirts and host a 50/50 raffle in hopes that people stick around and share their stories.
"You meet some cool people that have stories you would not believe unless they told them to you," he said.
Ryan said he founded the yearly charity event during his senior year at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent after learning that military veterans were struggling to get back on their feet.
"To me, the words homeless and veteran together just blow my mind, especially because pretty much every guy in my family but me is in the military," he said. "It's hard for me to grasp that you can be a veteran, you can put your entire life on the line for the country and then be in the streets looking for jobs."
"Any donation is a good donation," Ryan said, adding that canned food, grocery store gift cards, clothing, blankets and coffee go a long way at the Freedom House. Movie theater and other entertainment gift cards are also good donations, he said. "That's a luxury everyone takes for granted until you can't afford to do things."
I think it's good to have that option of cinema gift cards so they can get out and so something and not be trapped in, have fun," he said. "
All proceeds from the 50/50 raffle will be donated to the Freedom House and all T-shirt sales will be used by Giving To Those Who Gave for non-profit status application fees.
More information on Giving To Those Who Gave can be found at http://www.givingtothosewhogave.org/.
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Facebook: Kyle McDonald, Record-Courier