Meet Mariah Fusco, co-founder of the Beanie Bag Project, which promotes community, giving, and awareness for the homeless community. With the gift of a bag full of necessities and a homemade beanie, Mariah hopes to spread hope to those in need.
Where did the idea for the Beanie Bag Project come from?
The idea for The Beanie Bag Project started when my college roommate, Sarah, taught me how to knit beanies for gifts. While watching a movie one night, we began to have a conversation about the possibility of using the beanies we were making for a higher purpose. By the end of the night, we had created the idea for Beanie Bags - gallon ziploc bags that could be filled with essential health/hygiene items and a handmade beanie that could be given to a person in need at a moment's notice. Over the next few months, The Beanie Bag Project expanded from being Beanie Bags that could be given to people to Beanie Bags that could be the spark for conversation and community between people.
One of your main goals at the Beanie Bag Project is to form connections between people from different walks of life. What lasting changes to hope to see as a result of these connections?
A lasting change we want to see is the domino effect of compassion and conversation in communities. It is incredible to see how fast the opinion of a person can change when their fear of difference is overcome by the similarities found in something as simple as a conversation. The growth of compassion parallels the growth of community, and with courage, the joyous growth of companionship and compassion between people from all walks of life is everlasting.
What are three things you’ve learned about homelessness through this project?
The biggest thing I've learned through this project is that homeless does not equate to hopeless. Despite their situation, people in the homeless community are some of the most joyful and optimistic people I have met. They know that each day will come with challenges, but they also know that each day has something good come of it.
Home is not always four walls and a roof. For some people, home is the people they find themselves with day to day; the community they are a part of. I believe that there is no place that the phrase 'home is where the heart is' rings as true as it does among people struggling with homelessness.
Change is capable of coming from anyone. Nothing can stop change from existing in our world regardless of age, race, sexuality, or socioeconomic situation. If one person believes in change, there is a possibility for that change to exist wherever they are.
If you could change the world’s perspective about one common misconception of homelessness, which one would you choose and what would you hope to change about it?
If I could change the world's perspective about one common misconception of homelessness, I would change the misconception that homelessness is a disease. Homelessness comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people have a roof over their heads but can't afford to pay their utility bills. Some people sleep on park benches. Some people are fleeing domestic violence situations. You never know someone's story until you ask, and I am a firm believer that the stories of people struggling with homelessness and poverty are some of the most genuine and beautiful stories of all. Many people assume that people who are on street corners and seek shelter in local soup kitchens only want money, but more than anything, these beautiful souls are seeking compassion. To overcome this misconception, I would love to challenge people to volunteer at a soup kitchen, not to serve food, but to sit down and have meals and conversations with the people in attendance. The faces you see and the stories you will hear will change your perception of homelessness and poverty in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become more involved with their local homeless community but isn’t where to start or how to get connected locally?
The advice I would give to someone who wants to become more involved with their local homeless community is to be bold and be in prayer. Reach out to local schools and churches to learn about ministries and missions that help the homeless community in your area. Schools and churches often have connections with local outreaches and would be more than willing to help you get in contact with these places. Never be afraid to be proactive in a situation where you see homelessness impacting people. If you see a person standing outside of a fast food place, buy a small coffee and meal for them. Give it to them out of love and try and strike up a conversation with the person. They might seem shy or timid, but always remember that your kind actions are making a lasting impact in their life and the lives of those who see your kindness in action. When you have nothing to offer, offer yourself in word and compassion. Be a vessel of love in all you do, because at the end of the day, we are all human.
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