A Kimco Community Connection – Health Care for the Homeless
Kimco is committed to connecting with the surrounding neighborhoods where our shopping centers are located as a way to give back to local businesses and organizations and foster community spirit. As described in our first annual 2013 Corporate Responsibility Report, Kimco’s recently launched Community Connection program is an initiative to support the volunteer efforts of our employees and allows participants to take off two full paid workdays each year to volunteer in their communities. Participants volunteer for causes collectively chosen by each Kimco office, which in the past have included disaster relief, home building, and youth mentoring. Employees are encouraged to serve together to magnify our impact and promote team spirit – and in our office in Timonium, Maryland, that impact was incredible.
For years Geoff Glazer, the Vice President of Acquisitions and Development for Kimco’s Mid-Atlantic Region, has worked with an organization in the Baltimore community that strives to prevent and end homelessness for vulnerable individuals and families. Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) is making a difference in the community by providing quality, integrated health care and promoting access to affordable housing and sustainable incomes. HCH is driven by the vision of a future without homelessness to create a better life for all Marylanders, and delivers pediatric, adolescent, adult and geriatric medical care; social work and case management; treatment for addiction; dental care and vision assistance; and HIV and outreach services.
My colleagues support a diverse range of causes that make an important impact both locally and nationally, but when we proposed this service project to the team in the Mid-Atlantic Region there were few who had worked directly with the homeless before in our community. With all new experiences comes both excitement and timidity, but nearly two dozen employees eagerly volunteered their time to give back to and connect with the neighborhood in a way they might not have before.
On the day of our volunteer mission we arrived at HCH for a tour of the facility and then got right to work, sorting and assembling care packages of new socks and undergarments that our team, and other providers in the region, had donated. HCH works with a variety of providers to gather resources and services to serve the homeless, and along with their efforts and monetary donations, volunteers like us help to maintain a steady supply of essentials. Our Kimco team raised nearly $1,000 in cash donations and organized approximately 500 packages to help these Marylanders as they prepare for the winter ahead.
After putting together the care packages for individuals and families in need, we had the truly unique opportunity to share lunch with HCH clients. The men and women that we had the chance to interact with opened our eyes to how widespread the issue of homelessness is, and how meaningful having a place like HCH, which offers them everything from x-rays to psychiatric evaluations, can be. HCH serves between 13,000 and 14,000 patients each year, with 75,000 annual visits, and the clients we had the opportunity to meet all were gracious, thankful, bright individuals who sought critical support that they otherwise couldn’t afford.
Lunch was followed by an hour of pumpkin painting to celebrate the upcoming fall festivities and allow clients to express their creativity and emotions through art therapy. As Kimco employees sat side by side with HCH clients decorating pumpkins we could observe the beautiful artwork developed by clients over the years that adorned the walls. The painted pumpkins were eventually set on display at HCH and were also sent for others to enjoy at two of HCH’s partner organizations: Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center.
From art to activism, we were then welcomed to an advocacy and awareness talk led by members of Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau who often partners with HCH to better inform the work that staff and volunteers perform. We heard harrowing stories about the impact of homelessness and the efforts of volunteers to make a positive impact on a community, opening our eyes, minds, and hearts to the challenges HCH clients face every day, and how even a little help can go a long way. At the end of the day we met back together with HCH clients and employees to enjoy snacks and refreshments together, and connect in a way we might not have thought possible before.
This Community Connection experience helped inform our team in Mid-Atlantic Region about the prominent issue of homelessness in our community that the HCH is working diligently to address, and challenged us to rethink the way we approach neighborhood giving. There have even been ongoing connections made with Kimco employees who today continue to volunteer, donate to, and support HCH. I am grateful to the leadership at Kimco for giving us the opportunity to relearn our communities, and give back in a meaningful way.
I believe that in the end, we were the fortunate ones to have this opportunity, and that we got more out of this volunteer event than we could ever give. I encourage you, too, to consider a community outreach program in your neighborhood, and experience the same unforgettable day that we had.