Growing Kindness

Ten-year-old Hailey helps people who are homeless, one harvest at a time.

Have you ever seen someone who is homeless and wondered about that person? Have you ever noticed someone sleeping near the street or standing in line at a shelter? I have. Some of those people are now my friends. One man I know is named Billy Ray. He served in a war. He’s super nice. I know another man who has a really sweet dog named Tonka.

The first time I ever got to know a person who was homeless was when my mom and I gave a man a sandwich. I was six years old. We were on our way somewhere when we passed him. He looked hungry. I asked my mom if we could buy him something to eat. She said OK.

Giving the man food made me feel good. The second time I helped a homeless person, I gave a man some soup on a really cold day. I like doing small things to help others and trying to make the world a better place.

Some people think homeless people don’t deserve attention. But I think they do. People who end up homeless sometimes may be people who have simply lost their jobs. Or they are veterans with nowhere to go. I believe everyone should be treated equally. Everyone deserves respect and care.

When my mom told me about how homeless people often don’t have access to fresh food, I felt bad. I wanted my friends to have more nutritious foods to eat. With help from my family, I planted a garden in my backyard. I share the fruits and vegetables with homeless people in my community. At first, my garden was small. But after we moved to a different house, I had a big grassy area that I could use to grow more.

My dad and granddad helped me pull up the grass to start my new garden. We made a game out of picking up all the rocks. My entire family, including my mom and my little brother and sister, helped to loosen the soil. After that, a bunch of worms moved into my garden, which meant the soil should be good for growing.

Each spring, I make sure the plants go in the right spots so that they get the right amount of sunshine. In one section, I grow strawberries and blueberries. In another part, I grow tomatoes and melons and beans. I also plant carrots, cucumbers, peas, spinach, and different kinds of lettuce. I have to water my garden a lot—sometimes twice a day.

Girl holding harvested vegetables from her garden

About once a week during the summer, I fill a bucket with tomatoes and other produce from the garden. Then I wash everything and offer it to homeless people around our community. I make homemade pickles with the cucumbers and give those away, too.

You might think it’s hard to give away the food I grow. But it’s not. It’s like the best gift I can give.

After the first year of growing food to help homeless people, I started to realize that my friends needed other things, too, such as toothbrushes. And coats, gloves, and hats. So I set up a wish list with an online store. With help from my parents, I made a website and used social media to ask people to donate.

I was really surprised at the response. The first week, there were about 10 huge boxes on my doorstep when I got home from school. I hauled it all into my room and sorted through: coats, toiletries, sleeping bags, tents, handwarmers, even a portable shower!

The next time I delivered food, I brought the other stuff to pass out, too. It made my friends really, really happy. And I felt really, really happy that I could help. People said thank you a lot, so I guess they appreciated it a lot.

Spending time with people who don’t have homes has helped me to better understand what it means to be homeless. We get a lot of rain where I live in Washington, and sometimes it’s really cold. I don’t like imagining what it’s like for people who have to sleep outside. Everyone should have a roof over his or her head.

Girl using drill
I want to make a difference for my community
A bounty from the garden

So, as you might have guessed, I wanted to help. Now my goal is to give every homeless person in my community a sleeping shelter. That’s a small, snug wooden structure that a person can sleep in. The supplies to build one cost a lot of money. So I went back to work trying to raise money online.

With help from my mom, dad, and granddad, I have finished one sleeping shelter. We bought the wood, the insulation, and everything else we needed to build it ourselves. It has three windows and is painted blue and white. I plan to put a small mattress inside.

I want to make a difference for my community—that’s what keeps me going. I see homeless people as people and also as friends. I like to do things to help my friends. So I share the food I grow. And for one person, my first sleeping shelter will become a place to call home.

Excerpted from American Girl® magazine.