Perth primary school student, Elissa Bolton, was devastated when she saw a homeless man outside of a shop in Leederville, Perth. She shares, “I came home, I went into my bed and I started crying.”
Soon after, Elissa and her mum, Rachel sat down to formulate a plan.
“We thought of the project ‘Spread the Warmth’,” Elissa says, “Where we collect winter gear such as beanies, gloves, blankets, jeans, jackets and other stuff.”
“We have some collection points which are at a few places, and then we collect them and take them to Uniting WA in the city. They take it to homeless people in the streets.”
Uniting WA provides community services and support to those experiencing complex challenges in the Great Southern and Perth Metro area. More than 9000 people are homeless in Western Australia, 58 per cent of which are male and one in five are aged 25 to 34.
Starting the project in April this year, Elissa took on a workload that kept her busy during isolation. She started by recording a video campaign to connect with businesses and the community. Elissa has now set up collection boxes at 25 businesses in WA, from Kalamunda to Narambeen and Calingiri.
Elissa’s mother, Rachel says, “It gained momentum; it went huge. We had written down four or five businesses, and within a week there were about 15.”
Elissa and Rachel wanted to involve the community in the project, creating a ripple effect of conversations around homelessness with businesses and friends.
“We tried to do some research into what it means to be homeless, because for an 11-year-old kid, what is homelessness? So, it’s certainly generated a lot of conversation in our own family, and then obviously Elissa’s taken that to school,” Rachel shares.
Elissa says she loves sharing the experience with her friends, “they ask if they can come over and help me figure out some stuff about it, and then they tell their families, and their families tell other people, so more people know.”
Elissa’s teacher has nominated her for the Fred Hollows Humanity Award. The award acknowledges Year 6 students around Australia who make a positive difference in their community, following in the footsteps of Fred Hallows. Students embody the values of kindness, compassion and integrity.
Elissa plans to make Spread the Warmth an annual event, restarting around February next year with some exciting new ideas.
To follow along or get involved you can visit Elissa’s Spread the Warmth Facebook Page.