Berkeley high schoolers fundraising to give care packages to homeless

Genevieve Saldanha/Courtesy

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Berkeley High School, or BHS, student club and “umbrella” service organization B.I.O.N.I.C has launched a GoFundMe campaign with plans to provide care packages directly to the Berkeley homeless community.

The club was started by BHS senior Genevieve Saldanha in her sophomore year; its name stands for “Believe It Or Not I Care.” During her mother’s cancer treatment, Saldanha received support from her school community and said she wanted to give that same support to others in the community.

The club launched its online fundraising campaign in January to raise $1,000 for “B.I.O.N.I.C Boxes.” The boxes will include water, snacks for the day and hygiene products such as sanitary wipes and tampons, and they are to be distributed directly to individuals by club members.

The students obtained $500 through earlier fundraising events and estimate that $500 helps 200 people; with the GoFundMe, they said they hope to make a 400-person total impact.

The project was inspired by recent protests by the Berkeley homeless community and the club’s involvement with classmate Soren Whiting’s efforts to provide supplies to homeless individuals experiencing poor air quality conditions in Berkeley during the October 2017 Northern California wildfires.

B.I.O.N.I.C started by volunteering at homeless dinners but then decided to focus on fulfilling needs that club members felt were more overlooked.

“There are homeless shelters that provide food, that provide at least three meals per day,” Saldanha said. “But shelters don’t provide everything.”

Since its founding in 2015, B.I.O.N.I.C has organized a coin drive for Hurricane Matthew and has volunteered for the Berkeley Project and the Berkeley Half Marathon. The club has also launched annual “Wish Campaigns” since its start, which have raised thousands of dollars for everything from backpacks for students unable to afford them to water bottle filters that are now installed across the BHS campus.

While other clubs focus on very specific communities and issues, B.I.O.N.I.C’s bottom line is demonstrating that care can happen through direct acts of kindness of any scale, from helping individual classmates facing hardship to serving much larger communities in need, according to Saldanha. This puts B.I.O.N.I.C in a unique position, Saldanha said, making its mission applicable to many kinds of project ideas offered by its club members and to a variety of current issues.

“They come in committed to doing things,” said Alan Miller, B.I.O.N.I.C faculty sponsor and BHS English teacher. “They’re looking for problems to solve. It’s like being a detective in some way.”

Supplies for the boxes were inspired by what people asked for specifically on the streets when the group helped to distribute supplies in October.

“These are people we see on an everyday basis going to school, at lunch, leaving school,” Saldanha said, relating the club’s plans for direct distribution to B.I.O.N.I.C’s organizational emphasis on instantaneous change achieved through direct acts of care.

By handing out the boxes directly, B.I.O.N.I.C also ensures that disabled community members are able to receive the packages. Giselle Wendt, event coordinator for B.I.O.N.I.C, added that by going directly into the community, the club is trying to make materials and resources accessible.

“We want to bring awareness to the fact that the little things, such as sanitary things, taken for granted in life are needed by people out on the street,” Saldanha said. “We’re really hoping we can raise awareness and raise funds for a project we’ve spent a lot of time on.”

Contact Michele Meltzer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @michele_meltzer.