It began with a humble request to undergraduates: If you go on vacation and stay at a hotel, please save the free toiletries for a holiday homeless drive.
The USC chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta did not expect the overwhelming response from kindhearted students. They came in droves to contribute bags and bags filled with travel-sized shampoos, conditioners, toothbrushes, dental floss, shaving cream, deodorant, mouth wash – even fancy perfumes, sleeping masks and socks.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Michael Zobel, USC College biology major and philanthropy chair of the society honoring academic excellence. “We sent out e-mails in April, and I was worried that no one would remember to collect items and then bring them to school.”
In all, the College student organizers filled three 50-gallon bins with donated items, which volunteers separated into more than 300 colorful lunch bags and included handwritten “Happy Holiday” notes.
They took the gifts to the Los Angeles Mission, which serves the homeless living on the streets of downtown’s Skid Row.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at USC so far,” said Zobel, a sophomore also majoring in business administration at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “You can never really give too much. It feels great to work toward a cause.”
Eddie Santiago, the Los Angeles Mission’s development associate, gave the students a tour of the shelter when they dropped off the gifts.
Santiago said students were smart to donate travel-sized items.
“Although the (Alpha Lambda Delta) USC students had never been here personally until today, what they sent over inside those gift bags was perfect,” Santiago said.
Marc Villain, a sophomore and social chair of the society’s USC chapter, organized the bag-filling events. The enthusiastic students, who wanted to personalize each bag and card, touched him, as did the entire endeavor.
“It opened my eyes,” Villain said. “A simple bar of soap is something that some people really need. I realized there are a lot of things I take for granted.”
Kris Guzman, office manager in College Advising, worked with students on the gift-giving project.
“I was so moved,” Guzman said of the outpouring of support. “I honestly did not expect this kind of response.”
Zobel, who plans to become a doctor, said the experience inspired him to volunteer his services at clinics serving the underprivileged.
“This is only the beginning,” he said.