Lolly Galvin didn’t even speak to a homeless person until she was 31 years old. She’d been influenced, like many others, to believe that individuals living on streets and sidewalks were dangerous addicts who’d put themselves in these situations through laziness or licentiousness. Not so, Galvin’s found, and over the last four months she’s raised $12,000 for what she calls Dignity Bags and this week she took off on a 12-city tour of America to take the homeless outreach she’s been so successful with in Philadelphia on the road.
RELATED: Philly homelessness programs get a federal funding boost
“Homelessness doesn’t always look like someone on the side of the street – a lot of people feel like they can’t approach certain people and there’s a huge stigma towards homeless people,” she says. Her bags are full of little things that she’s learned, through her regular interactions with people in need, they actually really want: toiletries like soap and shampoo; clean, dry socks; nail clippers, combs and razors; and when she can, a high-protein easy-to-eat snack.
But it’s about more than handouts. Galvin says it’s mostly about spending a moment with someone who’s brushed off and ignored all day, everyday. “I’m just trying to have people take a minute and be present. For me, it’s sitting next to them, it’s talking, it’s sharing lunch,” she explains. Setting bag recipients onto a better path isn’t necessarily the goal. “It’s not ‘What are you gonna do next?’ It’s sharing a moment and listening and learning and giving them a brief moment of a connection with another human being.”
It all started when she was messing around on Periscope and she declared on the social platform that she’d make a go at random acts of kindness. She took a homeless man named Tom to Five Guys for a burger, she shared his story on her private Facebook and Instagram, and the Dignity Project was born. “People just loved his story, he really resonated with them,” she said. “I started documenting the homeless people I met and their stories and I started getting more and more donations. Now I’m getting messages from people around the world: Australia, France, England, Ireland – Yesterday someone wrote me from Pakistan. It’s amazing the reach social media has if you want to do something good.”
The LaSalle grad and Jersey native says she got a good deal on a van rental for the month, which she’ll live out of, and all expenses associated with the travel are her own burden. The entirety of the $12k is going into the bags. She’s so Instagram savvy (@realhumanist) her D.C. efforts late last week collected hundreds of double-taps in hours. And the testimonies she’s heard break her heart.
RELATED: 3 myths about the working poor
“They hear their own name about once every three months,” she reports. Most of the time, they’re on the street because they don’t have the safety network many of us don’t realize we enjoy. “You or I might have a relative. No one took them in – they had nowhere else to turn to,” she says. The most common reason she hears for homelessness is devastating – “I had no one.”