The Mid-Ohio Valley is a special place. Not only is it home to the beautiful, historic town of Marietta, OH, but it also features the gorgeous landscape of the Ohio River, rolling mountains, vast farmscapes, access to small-town living and country life within minutes and city life within a few short hours, several institutions of higher education, a growing number of independently-owned businesses, the spirit and pride that living in West Virginia embraces, a hearty sense of competition on game day, and amazingly kind, hard working, passionate, and humble people.

As our local communities continue to grow and thrive, it is important that we set a strong foundation of giving and service. Each us has the power to make a difference in the life of our communities every single day. Here are a few ways that you can help out fellow citizens who may not be as fortunate.

#1: Educate yourself about homelessness.

There are many myths circulating about why any one person becomes homeless. Educating ourselves about the causes and influences of homelessness helps tremendously, particularly when it comes to figuring out the best ways to make a positive difference.

For example, did you know that on a single night in January 2013, it was approximated that 57, 849 veterans were homeless? Did you know that 33% of the U.S. homeless population is under the age of 24? And, according to a 2005 survey, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.

#2: Donate money.

Particularly in the Mid-Ohio Valley, there are a number of different nonprofits that offer services to combat hunger and homelessness. I’d like to think that if ending hunger was as simple as feeding the hungry, we would have eliminated the issue by now. Food and shelter are starting points, but the journey to sustainable living is long and difficult, requiring access to a number of resources our nonprofit community aims to provide. By donating money to the nonprofit of your choice, you are supporting that nonprofit’s ability to provide the resources needed to their clients and ultimately, funding the journey out of chronic poverty.

#3: Donate time.

Volunteering is a necessary part of any thriving community. When you donate your time to help a nonprofit better serve their mission, you are sending a strong message to that nonprofit and to the community around you: the cause you are working for is important. Also, particularly in the case of nonprofits that are built to address hunger, homelessness, and other faces of poverty, there are never enough hands to do the work because the work is immense. Any little bit you can give will certainly go a long way.

You can find volunteer opportunities of all kinds on United Way’s central volunteer service.

#4: Donate items.

Create space in your life to make donating a part of your monthly routine. For example, maybe you have cans of vegetables lining the back of your pantry that are longing for that perfect Pinterest recipe to scroll along. Instead of waiting, snatch those cans right out of your pantry and bring them to your local food bank! Food, clothes, linens, and toiletries are all perfect items that can be donated regardless of the season.

Fun Fact: Did you know that many shelters and transitional housing services could really use gas cards? If you happen to have any of those lying around, or if you live in an area that pays you to recycle, turn that profit into a gas card and donate it!

Fun Tip for Donating: Next time you bring home newly purchased clothes, don’t let yourself put new hangers with new clothes into your closet. Instead, set the rule that for any new item of clothing you purchase, you must donate an old one. Not only will this help keep your wardrobe under control, but it allows your attire to stay fully updated with the latest trends.

#5: Create and distribute “care kits”.

Care Kits are easy to create and ensure you are always prepared to offer a helping hand whenever you cross paths with someone in need. Make any amount you choose and keep them in your car. Next time you hit the road and see someone in need, pull over and distribute a Care Kit with a smile and a hug and be on your way!

To make a Care Kit, all you need is a large Ziplock bag filled with the following items: water bottle, socks, granola or cereal bar, fruit snack, crackers with peanut butter, gift card to an easily accessible fast food restaurant, hand wipes, pack of tissues, maxi pads, toothbrush and toothpaste, nail clippers, band-aids, chapstick, comb or small brush, and mints, cough drops and/or gum.

#6: Lobby.

Contact your local officials to advocate for the resources needed for both our nonprofit and homeless communities to thrive. Voting laws, minimum wage, employment regulations, access to federal documents such as a Social Security card and a driver’s license, affordable health care, public property laws, domestic violence protections, etc. are all issues that directly impact an individual’s ability to live a poverty-free life. For information about lobbying, click here.

#7: Build relationships with those affected.

According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, on any given night, approximately 610,042 people are homeless. With a number that large, it can be difficult to put an individual face to the issue. But, for the most impactful work to be done in our communities, we must be exactly that: a community. The next time you serve a meal at a local soup kitchen, sit down and have a conversation with one of the clients. Learn the story of an individual who has been impacted by poverty and homelessness. Statistics can only do so much to paint a picture before the very real, social aspect of our communal lives takes precedence. Further, poverty and homelessness are not simply a lack of funding or a lack of shelter; they are strongly correlated to a lack of social capital. Help those in need by becoming a friend.

#8: Provide opportunities for those affected to become employed.

If you are in a position to advocate for someone you’ve built a relationship with to have sustainable income, that is such a gift. Those who are impacted by homelessness and poverty need access to opportunities to not only use their skillsets, but also strengthen them. Not only that, but many housing facilities need an employer reference on a rental application. Aside from the financial gains that a job can bring, the structural and societal gains are also immense.

For more information about poverty, hunger, and homelessness in our region and beyond, please follow the following links:

Poverty in the U.S.:

National Coalition for the Homeless

Poverty in Ohio:

The Ohio Poverty Report, January 2015

Talk Poverty: Statistics on Ohio

Basic Needs Resource Guide: Washington County (OH) Homeless Project

Poverty in West Virginia:

Mountaineer Food Bank

Talk Poverty: Statistics on West Virginia