JUPITER, Fla. — Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, nearly 5,000 children in Palm Beach County were identified as homeless.
Since then, given the state of the economy, advocates estimate that number has only increased in the last couple of months.
The ripple effect continues. Many of the organizations whose mission is to support and serve homeless children and families are struggling as donation drives and fundraising events have all been canceled.
One non-profit in particular, The Giving Closet Project, provides essential emergency items to children living in situational poverty.
A Jupiter Middle School student, Rylan Dooley, recently launched an effort to collect supplies for that organization.
"What makes this just so wonderful is just the timing of it all. So, we aren’t having any supply drives and he’s doing a hygiene drive for us right now and its becoming really successful," said Brooke Dooley, co-founder of The Giving Closet Project.
Rylan, with the help of his mom, Jill Dooley, created an Amazon wish list. A simple post to Facebook has garnered so much attention and action, more than they ever thought. Boxes of things like toothpaste, socks, underwear, and women’s hygiene products now fill the Jupiter family’s home, sent from people all over the country.
"There’s a lot more kids that need this stuff than I thought and it’s crazy what they don’t have and can’t afford," said Rylan Dooley, an eighth grader at Jupiter Middle School.
The idea began with Rylan’s upcoming bar mitzvah. A part of that tradition in the Jewish religion is to complete a mitzvah, a social action project.
The coronavirus cancelled Rylan’s bar mitzvah celebration, something he’s looked forward to for years. What it did do was challenge Rylan to instead direct all of his energy into the supply drive to try and help as many of his peers as possible.
"It kind of makes you step back and realize what’s really important," said Jill Dooley, Rylan’s mom.
The Giving Closet Project began with two teachers repurposing and laundering lost and found piles often found sitting for months inside school offices. They used those items to clothe students in need. It has expanded to an actual closet space inside a Palm Beach County cchool and in one in Jacksonville where social workers, school counselors, and teachers can receive items for students who need it.
"We are 100% run on donations. And so companies would do a hygiene drive for us or socks and underwear because those are our largest expenses and those have just completely shut down," said Brooke Dooley.
The low inventory will now be supported by Rylan’s efforts and directed straight into the hands of his peers dealing with situational poverty.
"He’s learning that there are kids that need. You know, he may not see it because a lot of times when children are living in poverty, obviously they don’t want anyone to know and they try to hide it as much as they can. I recently dropped off items for a student at his own school," said Brooke Dooley.
If you are interested in donating any items from Rylan’s Amazon list, click here.
If you know of someone doing good and Inspiring South Florida, please send us their story to InspiringSFL@wptv.com.