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Rucksgiving 2016

Melanie is helping to lead our 2016 annual Rucksgiving, and put together this awesome post, covering lots of people’s questions, concerns and giving some guidance, especially if this is your first year! You can follow more on her personal blog, here.

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Hey all,

We are thrilled you are interested in helping with our annual Rucksgiving event this year!!  Rucksgiving is an event put together by the New England Spahtens and New England chapters of Team RWB where we bring all of the items we have collected to hand out to people on the streets of Boston and various shelters.  In this post, I would like to share some tips for interacting with people and what to bring/say (and what to avoid).  If this is your first time serving others in this type of capacity, it can be a bit intimidating and you want to do the right thing.  You are already heading in the right direction by wanting to help and wanting to understand and connect with people!  Having served in different settings in different countries, and reviewing different articles, I have compiled the following tip list.  If you think of anything I may have missed, please feel free to comment below!!

Before you go remember that for many people you will meet,

“life is very hard and very chaotic. You will find quite a few people who will be very appreciative of your help; others will be so jaded by past experiences they are not at a place where they can feel the love you offer. Offer it anyway. In the end, love always wins.” (Love Wins Ministries)

Also remember, there are many reasons why someone might be homeless (ie lost a job, runaway child, battling a mental illness/PTSD, medical disaster) don’t assume they are homeless (or are homeless for any particular reason).

Good Things to Bring

  • Hotels, dollar stores, and bulk stores are great places to buy/ask for donations for supplies.
  • Tarps are in high demand for those who do not stay in or have access to shelters (inexpensive at stores like Harbor Freight).  Please note, tarps would be better gifts as you interact with people at home.  Most people we interact with for Rucksgiving specifically stay in shelters.
  • If you receive/buy any pre-owned clothing, wash it, fold it, and label it with the size in masking tape.
  • Baby wipes are great for cleaning dirty hands and are better than soap (less messy for quick clean up).
  • Socks and underwear are in high demand, but should be new.
  • Bottled water!!!!
  • Do not mix food with toiletries (then snacks taste like soap) separate in freezer bags, they block smell better.
  • Lip balm, lotion, and sunscreen
  • Snacks – (easy to chew as they may or may not have access to dental care) fruit/applesauce/pudding cups, soft chewy granola bars, fresh fruit, crackers/cookies, beef jerky, small nuts/trail mix, and hard candy
  • Travel mugs to gas stations that give discount refills
  • $5-10 gift cards to restaurants/grocery stores
  • Travel size first aid kids
  • Hand warmers/hats
  • Warm gloves (not little knit ones that are decorative)
  • Blankets
  • Large/XL warm outer layers

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Good Things to Say

  • FIRST!!!! Look each person you interact with in the eye and say “Hi, how are you?” or “Good morning.”
  • Ask him/her what his/her name is, shake his/her hand.
  • Let him/her know what you have or ask him/her what (s)he needs (don’t start the conversation with “Here I have homeless kits or free stuff” and hand it to them).
  • Talk to them with genuine interest and recognize their value as an individual.
  • Speak to each person the same way you would to a friend, family member, or coworker.
  • If you are able to have a conversation, avoid having debates.  Sit next to or get on the same eye level as the person you are speaking with.
  • Don’t tell them what to do or lecture them.
  • Regardless of your position on giving someone cash money, still acknowledge someone if they ask. “I don’t have money, but is there another way I can help you?”  (Not everyone will be homeless and may not need a place to sleep, but he or she may desperately need something else).
  • “Did you catch the game” or another neutral topic, “Good morning,” “How are you doing? Would you like to talk?” (open ended).
  • “I will keep you in my thoughts” (or if you are a person of faith, offer to pray with them-AFTER talking with them).

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Good Things to Avoid

  • Do not mistake your discomfort for a lack of safety. If this is your first time interacting with people in this setting, you will likely be uncomfortable.  Getting out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable.  Focus on the people you are serving rather than your discomfort.  (Do remember to be smart though, for Rucksgiving stay with the group.  When you go back home, stay in pairs and in well-lit areas).
  • If someone is sleeping and they appear homeless, only leave one small bag of supplies. He or she may spend the night in a shelter or move locations. Many shelters limit how many bags a person can bring in with them.  If they cannot carry it, they may have to decide to throw something out or have difficultly moving.
  • Rather than simply handing someone that appears homeless a bag of supplies (because they may not be or they may not need what you are handing them) ask them if there is anything they might need.

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What to do After Rucksgiving

  • Go where people are!
  • If you are able to interact with someone repeatedly (ie you pass them on your way to work), ask them what they have difficulty finding and could use.
  • For continued ways to connect once you get home, check out this article.

Have you signed up for Rucksgiving yet?  Want to know more about the event or how to join us?  Click on the button below!

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To follow my blog for other community outreach info or product/race reviews click here!

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Rucksgiving 2015

12188059_10153780441448338_5711236888514502062_oBack in Boston, our second annual Rucksgiving, and it was raining. 2015 saw lots more people, lugging lots more stuff – but we were seriously worried about being able to get that much stuff out to the right people.

Rucksgiving has one goal – bring whatever you can, and ruck it around the streets, and get it out to the homeless. Warm coats, blankets, socks and gloves. Food, toiletries, gift cards. We had tried to do our homework and reach out to shelters before hand – and received pushback from them – you see, shelters don’t really want to deal with large groups of people, handing out unvetted and unsolicited items to their population – which is pretty much exactly what we need to do.

12311107_784581248334028_7680134773197024658_nFortunately, someone way more prepared than I had stepped up to take the lead – Shaina, one of our long time members and NES ambassadors, had offered to take point and co-ordinate with the Team RWB Boston community to plan out a route, call some venues and shelters and keep the ducks in a row (I’ve said it about ten times in the last 24 hours, but I’ll say it again – THANK YOU SHAINA!). With way more people joining us this year (despite the drizzling rain), this was no small task – but between them they planned to split us into five groups of about 15 to 20 people (plus kids), and head off in different directions to see what we could do.

This year, we were better prepared with our gear – I had a ruck stuffed full of new fleece blankets – and my son’s cub scouts had provided us with bags of warm coats and childrens wear. Others had pre-packed baggies full of toiletries and personal care products, and more than a couple of people had to bring wagons, piled up with totes full of warm clothing that had been collected. It was a pretty awesome, and more than a little overwhelming at times! I have no clue how much stuff we brought, but it can never be enough.

The plan of splitting the group up into smaller teams, each with their own leader, worked perfectly. My team was able to stay together, be more co-ordinated, and after a sweep of the Boston Commons (empty, the rains driving everyone into shelter or under cover), we took a route, followed our leader, and hit two separate shelters.

In both cases, the shelter staff and security asked us to move on and not crowd their front entrances – but in both cases word got out quickly to the residents, and we setup a few hundred yards down the street – I was able to get my blankets handed out very quickly – and we started to get our socks, coats, gloves and hats distributed as quickly as possible. Like last year, food items seem to move slowly, in favor of getting warmth before the winter period hits.

The community was welcoming, thankful – and in some cases simply wishing them a happy holidays and a quick “stay warm” was more important to them than the gloves or socks it came with – like we saw last year, this is stuff they need, find hard to get, and the simple act of someone showing them some kindness is rare and special for them – and such a pleasure and reward for us. We can’t change the world or their situation, but we can remind them we’re all human and they are being thought of.

It was easy at the beginning to be a little glum – the weather was poor, all the planning and calling ahead of the shelters was discouraging, and the volume of gear and people overwhelming – but our community leaders had a plan, and we were able to get much of everything we brought delivered to the people who needed it most – it seems a better bet to simply show up at shelters, and let the residents get the word out, than work through the shelters themselves – not an ideal situation, for sure, but at least in Boston it was effective.

Thank you to everyone who came out, who helped supply gear, especially our team leaders and Shaina for keeping the cats herded.

Also – thank you to OCR World Championship for the inspiration – a chance phone call from Adrian in 2014 “do you think this is something people would be into?” has turned into an annual tradition for the New England Spahtens, and from the photos flying around yesterday, many other regions and OCR communities are also getting involved and making a difference. It may never change the world – but if it changes just one persons holiday weekend, then thats enough for now.

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Guest Blog: Rucksgiving II

Amy recently stepped up, and started helping us organize our NES social trips. The biggest hits of those have been our Ruckgiving hikes around Boston. In this guest spot, Amy writes about Rucksgiving II – held in the middle of January.

Rucksgiving II

There aren’t many things that can bring us the deep, wholesome, hopeful, world-lovin’ kind of happiness that helping others brings.

Around Thanksgiving time, a big group of New England Spahtens gathered together in the heart of Boston, strapped down with rucks, wagons, strollers, and gym bags full of blankets, hats, scarves, hand warmers, socks, toiletries, food, clothing, and more. The first event was so wonderful, we decided to plan a second!

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In January, we got a group together with even more donations, this time collected not only from home, but also from workplaces, classrooms, and friends. We met up at Boston Common and rucked over to Pine Street Inn, where we happily overwhelmed a grateful volunteer coordinator with mountains of donations! We learned that Pine Street Inn is responsible for providing shelter and street outreach to more than 1,600 men and women each day. Many of the items we brought would go out in the Outreach Van that night, providing relief to those sleeping on the bitter cold streets. After unpacking many of our items, we moved along to Rosie’s Place, a shelter for women and children – the first of its kind in the United States. At Rosie’s, we were able to chat, interact, and give directly to the ladies, which was the most rewarding part of the day for most! Despite a couple brief hold-ups, the tremendous patience and eagerness to give shown by all our Spahtens made the event a true success.

Here are just a few of many moving and inspirational snapshots of our day:

Credit: Amy ReichenbachA woman, arms filled with new clothes, grasping at words in English, able only to find the phrase, “I’m so happy! I’m so happy!”

The heartbreaking smile of sweet chubby toddler cheeks. His resilience, waving around a homemade cookie. His joy, dumping out a brand new box of crayons in his lap.

Three teens, huddled together on the frozen city sidewalk, clutching a sign “cold & hungry”…approached by 30 smiling Spahtens handing them blankets and hot breakfast sandwiches. Such relief in her eyes so many grateful thank-yous on his lips.

Watching little Spahtkin faces light up as they hand out donations they collected themselves, giving away “things” and getting back smiles.

A young lady waltzing down the sidewalk, from one Spahten backpack to the next, picking out sweaters, chapstick, sneakers… “I feel like I’m shopping!” she beams.

Credit: Amy ReichenbachHelping a woman hold her rolling suitcase closed as she zips her entire life inside. Her profuse thank-yous pause only to ask, “What church are you from?” She never expected a racing group, and blesses me with a giant hug.
This is part of what makes us who we are as New England Spahtens. We train, we get muddy, we laugh, we compete. But we are a community, and we understand what it means to give.

So many people are forever searching for the “key” to happiness. They try to find it in job promotions, big houses, expensive jewelry, huge TVs, more belongings… What’s so often overlooked is that the true key to happiness is connecting with others. Giving something of yourself to another person, so you become a part of their story that they look back on and smile – that’s what happiness is made of. We, as New England Spahtens, understand what it means to lift others up – on the race course and off. We remind ourselves to reach out a helping hand to those in need, at every opportunity we find or create. That’s what makes me so very proud to be a member of this team.

Anyone who would like to help coordinate a Spahten community event in their area, contact Amy Reichenbach.

More photos

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Thanksgiving, and giving thanks …

rucksgiving2It started with a phone call. Adrian of OCR World Championship called me one morning to float a crazy idea by me … For the last few years, he and his buddies have ran around New York City handing out festive holiday cheer, and he wondered – would the New England Spahtens do something similar in Boston? Would this be an idea that could take off?

From such a simple phone call – an annual tradition has launched.

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What is Rucksgiving?

It’s simple – you get together, and ruck around your nearest city. Instead of bricks, you carry food. Blanket. Warm weather gear. Toiletries. You ruck around the homeless hotspots, or the shelters, and you find people who need things.

gooddeedAnd you wish them a happy holidays – because not everyone had a warm fire and turkey dinner this Thanksgiving, and it feels nice to spread some of that.

In Boston, we had over 40 people and kids participating. We spent a bit of time at the common – but the weather had driven the cities homeless population to warmer locations. We regrouped and rucked – hitting up a rehab shelter, and ultimately ending up at Rosies Place, a women’s shelter. Thank you to Amy for putting together the route, and all her work behind the scenes!

And we made a difference. We made an impact. Not on a global, world peace level – but locally, in our own community, we gave someone who needed it a new toothbrush. We gave someone a warm jacket to stay warmer this winter. We left boxes of diapers at the women’s shelter for the homeless children who needed them and we provided home made muffins and candy bars to people who may not have had a tasty treat in sometime. We listened to stories from some people, received hugs from others. We were especially touched when one of the little girls in our group gave her favorite blanket from her stroller to the shelter after hearing there was an 18mo old baby inside – proving that the biggest hearts can be found everywhere.

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We covered five miles in three hours. We were cold, but thankful. This whole experience touched us all differently, but I like to think that when we all came home, we were even more grateful for our warm beds and our loving families.

We finished our ruck by splitting up – either heading home, or to Jillians, the venue for our first annual holiday social.

We picked Jillians for a reason – a centrally located, well known bar and pool hall in Boston – they were used to large groups and corporate style functions, and gave us a section of their floor and a bunch of pool tables. They also gave us awesome food, and I thank each and every person who picked up tickets to help us cover the costs for such a party! A wonderful night of giving thanks for our friends, meeting new friends – so many new faces came out, which was wonderful, and I hope I got to meet you all – we’ll be doing it again 🙂

Thank you to Unleashed, Battlefrog, FIT and Reebok for providing prizes for our raffle!

We had a wonderful day – and it was a fantastic way to spend time with our OCR community and family – from old friends having fun, to meeting new friends. I hope everyone had a good time, whichever activity you participated in, and I thank you – because without this community and the people in it, none of this could have happened.

If you missed this event – you don’t have to wait for the next one. This holidays make a difference to one person you don’t know. Find a soup kitchen and volunteer, or a homeless shelter and hand out blankets – don’t wait.

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