‘Berkeley Breathes’: Berkeley High student sets up GoFundMe to support homeless in time of poor air quality

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Ana Isabel Dias/File

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Equipped with 100 masks, 140 water bottles and 47 eye drops, Berkeley High School student Soren Whiting, along with about 12 of his classmates, set out to distribute supplies among those stuck outside in the smoky air Sunday afternoon along Shattuck Avenue.

Whiting started a GoFundMe page Friday called “Berkeley Breathes” with the goal of raising $300 to provide Berkeley’s homeless with useful items to help lessen their exposure to the smoke and ash from the North Bay fires.

His campaign has secured more than $520 from 19 individual donations as of press time, and amassed enough masks, water bottles and eye drops to supply to whomever he and his friends saw as they walked along Shattuck Avenue toward Ohlone Park.

Whiting said he was first inspired to take action after spotting a homeless man coughing on his way home from school.

“I remember thinking this air really sucks and he doesn’t have anywhere to go,” Whiting said.

Before starting “Berkeley Breathes,” Whiting had been volunteering his time with Osha Neumann, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center who works closely with Berkeley’s homeless community, according to Whiting’s father Robbie Whiting. Neumann said he received a call from Whiting informing him of what he was doing.

“One of the things that Soren recognized that all of us should is that people that are experiencing homelessness have the same needs and same desires that all of us have,” Neumann said. “He didn’t just see them as ‘others.’”

Whiting and his friends planned to convene again Tuesday after school to distribute even more supplies along Telegraph Avenue and at People’s Park. But he said his campaign is not over.

“I don’t want it to just die out after one week. … I hope to get more people to join me and also hope more people become aware of the people in the streets and start to see them more as human beings,” Whiting said. “They’re a part of the community just like you and I are.”

Contact Jared Brewer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JaredBBrewer.