My name is Matt Shipman. I’ve always believed that helping other people, and giving charitably, is important. But I realized in 2008 that I was not doing much of either. So I examined why I was not. Several  things were stopping me from doing more: 1) How do I know a nonprofit organization will spend the money wisely? 2). I’m incredibly busy. When could I find the time to go to a nonprofit and drop stuff off? 3). I can’t afford to make a lot of donations. Won’t I look silly if I go through all the effort of driving to a shelter just to drop off one can of soup?

Once I identified these obstacles, I came up with an organized way of addressing them. I call it the First Step Project.

Here’s how it works:

1). Don’t take money, only goods. And take the time to vet any nonprofit you work with to ensure (as much as is possible) that it is a well-run, well-respected organization.

2). Find a group of like-minded people who would be willing to donate goods, such as food, that area nonprofit organizations can use. Check in with those people on a monthly basis to see if they have anything to donate that month – if they do, arrange a time to swing by and collect their donations.

3). Every little bit helps! If you collect one item from every person involved, you’ll have done a lot to help those less fortunate.
This works especially well in a workplace environment. That way you don’t have to go very far to collect the donations from the people participating in your project. And it makes it very easy for the participants as well. For example, if someone has a “buy one, get one free” coupon they can buy an extra can of food at the grocery store and simply bring it in to work with them the next day.  This approach would also work well for people living in a dormitory, an apartment or a neighborhood.

I launched this project in February 2009. I contacted about 45 people I knew at my workplace with the idea, and approximately 25 of them chose to participate. I chose a nonprofit in my area that had a great reputation. I also took advantage of some charity rating sites, which let me know whether an organization was reputable. The organization I chose deals with victims of sexual abuse and violence. Their staff helped me compile a list of “evergreen” needs (things they need every month and can’t get enough of). I shared that list with the participants. Each month they let me know if they had anything and brought it to work. Once a month I’d swing by their office and pick it up. In the first year I collected approximately $3,000 worth of goods – and that’s based on a conservative estimate of the donations. I started this Web site in the hope that other people can use this concept to start their own First Step Projects. We’ve already helped people set up additional First Step Projects in North Carolina and California — you could be next!

Here’s an example of just how much of a difference you can make in your community

We were forced to shutter the First Step Project in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The need is still there, but we just weren’t able to operate safely. By the time we officially stopped operating, in March 2020, the First Step Project had provided $51,533 worth of necessary supplies to the women, children and men seeking shelter with InterAct of Wake County, an organization that helps survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault.

I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, but it can be hard to picture what those donations mean in terms of precisely *how* we’ve helped people. In the past I’ve tallied up some of the goods we’ve provided, and people seem to respond to that. So I decided to tally up a few more. I chose goods that are: A) given on a fairly regular basis; and B) that are very much in need every month. If you look at the list below, you’ll see that these are not luxuries, but necessities. Items that are used on a daily basis — often many times a day.

This does not include many of the items we’ve provided that are also incredibly important. For example, it doesn’t include the dozens of bathing suits, towels and swim diapers we’ve provided that allow children at the shelter to participate in day camps and community activities. It doesn’t include the brand new underwear that we have provided for women and children who need them, often as a result of the most difficult circumstances.

But it is a snapshot of what we CAN do, what we have done and, hopefully, what we will continue to do. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this effort. The need is great, but so is your desire to make a difference in our communities.

The numbers, from February 2009 through March 2020———

Toothpaste: 630 (For both toothpaste and shampoo, these are large, not travel-sized. I count travel toiletries separately.)

Shampoo: 494

Tampons: 10,161

Pads: 9,841(These are maxipads, not pantiliners. I count those separately.)

Toilet paper: 2,145

Diapers: 20,431

Cans/cups of soup: 1,223

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