Admit it. We’ve all done it. We put a bottle of cold water in our car to cool us in the mid-afternoon heat, but it sits there unopened for a couple of days—that is, until it’s too hot to drink and we toss or forget about it.
We fail to realize, in most cases, that there are people right here in our own community who would benefit from a refreshing gulp, and that at least some of them are walking our streets every day.
Members of one Tempe family have taken it upon themselves to help those in need by collecting cases of water from anyone who can help. They plan on donating the water to the Tempe Community Action Agency, which gives out more than 320,000 pounds of food every year—and bottles of life-sustaining water in the summer—to those in need.
“I don’t think people know how many homeless people there are around here,” said 16-year-old Corona del Sol student Sean Ewen.
“According to the Kyrene School District, they had 196 homeless students this year and the city of Tempe said that, in 2010, there were between 300 and 500 homeless people living in our city. I would bet there are even more now.”
Sean and his brother David, a 13-year-old at Kyrene Middle School, have done this project before with the help of their mother Gail Paredes-Ewen. They took action again this summer when she suggested it as a project for the two of them.
“I’m extremely proud that they have taken this and run with it. At first, they were hesitant because they didn’t think they could get anyone to respond,” said Gail.
“Since people began bringing water, they have become more enthusiastic about it. I think it shows them that everyone can do something to help others— that every effort counts.”
Stephen Sparks, TCAA’s director of operations, said that these next few months are specially dangerous for people who don’t have shelter.
“In the summer months, it is critical to have water on hand to make sure people stay hydrated and avoid life-threatening heat-related illnesses,” Sparks said.
The TCAA office is a designated hydration station, which means that individuals can come to their location and escape the heat as well as get water and food with no questions asked.
Sparks has been with the non-profit for four years, noting that the organization is in need of water as well as any non-perishable foods that are high in protein (tuna, canned chicken and peanut butter, for example).
The TCAA also accept donations of still-packaged t-shirts, socks and underwear for its homeless shelter. The shelter houses up to 35 people a night, seven nights a week, but its staff also deliver food to seniors five days a week and help operate four senior centers in the Valley.
The work done by TCAA has helped raise awareness among the Ewen family members.
David said he has gotten plenty of support from family and friends while collecting donations and knows how critical it is for someone to have water in Arizona during the summer.
“I think they really liked the idea,” David said. “One of my friends said I was a giver, which made me feel like maybe I was actually doing something for our community.”
David and Sean gained momentum for the project through Facebook as well as word of mouth through family and friends, and are hoping to build on their momentum.
The luxury to have smart-phones, nice cars and nights out is one of the benefits of a society, but with that benefit comes an opportunity to step up and help those who are struggling, say the experts.
With high temperatures in the 110s many days throughout the summer, water is one of the most vital elements of survival. It takes just days for severe dehydration to set in and the heat only amplifies the problem, say medical authorities.
Anyone who wants to donate water or other needed items can take them to Windy City Café in south Tempe, where owner David Najor says donations will be stockpiled until they’re delivered to TCAA.
“This is exactly the kind of initiative we believe in, and we’re fully behind the efforts of David and Sean to help those in need,” Najor said. “We hope the enterprising efforts by these boys will encourage others to develop their own ways to provide help where it’s needed.”
Windy City Café is on the south side of Elliot Road, just east of McClintock.
Final note: If you’re unable to take your donation to Windy City, you can contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org and either I or a member of the Ewen family will pick up your donation.