2 recent Lawrence High graduates organize clothing drive to aid homeless community

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Bundled against the cold and masked, from left, George Dobson, Addison Gish and Sophie Bracker Sturm stand in front of the clothes they were giving away Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, at the Lawrence Public Library.

This winter’s frigid temperatures made an impression on Sophie Bracker-Sturm while riding her bike more than six miles to her job at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop in recent weeks. So when she heard of the extended cold spell about to settle over the Lawrence area, her mind turned to homeless members of the community.

“After hearing the forecast, I saw it was going to be pretty cold,” she said. “I talked to mom about doing something. I hate riding my bike in freezing conditions. I can’t imagine sleeping in it.”

After talking to her mother, Sophie recruited her best friend, Addison Gish, to plan a clothing drive, collecting donated clothing and cash for new items.

On Thursday and Sunday when temperatures just squeaked above zero, the two young women distributed the clothing to all comers at the Lawrence Public Library from the shelter of a heated tent Addison’s friend David Learned provided. Addison estimated 30 to 40 people stopped by on Thursday. Sunday’s effort was to be from noon to 5 p.m. but was cut short when the library decided not to open for the day and few people came by.

Undeterred, the two women plan to set up the tent and clothes racks again from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday with the expectation of another busy day.

Sophie and Addison, who graduated from Lawrence High School at the end of the fall semester, said they have a lot to give away from donations that friends and strangers provided after learning of their plans.

“Boxes of clothes filled our living room,” Addison said.

Sophie and Addison also collected more than $700 in cash that they spent on clothing in two Walmart shopping trips. What they don’t give away at the library, they will donate to charities helping the homeless community, Sophie said.

Their effort involved more than collecting clothing. Sophie and Addison, who have homeless friends, reached out to the Lawrence homeless community to find out what kind of clothing was in demand. They also listened to the stories people told about how some ended up homeless.

“The main thing that struck us was that many times things were stolen from them,” Sophie said. “They were put in a bad situation.”

Sophie and Addison said they learned that some homeless people shied away from the use of temporary shelters because of fears about COVID-19, and that they tried to look after each other.

The two also talked with those in the community who work with homeless people, as well as Lawrence Mayor Brad Finkeldei. They plan to meet with Finkeldei again about their plan to provide a permanent free clothing resource.

“We’re going to talk to the mayor again on Thursday about building something similar to little libraries so homeless folks can grab something year around,” Sophie said, referring to the numerous free book lending stations throughout Lawrence. “We plan there to be a place clothes could be hung up.”


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