North Carolina Hillel, a foundation for Jewish campus life, also contributed to the donations. The Hillel center knitted a bag of hats and socks for the police department to hand out, said Sgt. Allison Finch, an officer for the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Finch has been passing out blankets, hats and socks to unsheltered people in Chapel Hill for over 16 years.
“It’s really kind of fun. When you first approach people, there is a lot of suspicion because people usually expect bad news from the police. It’s nice to see the change on their face when you explain to them what you’re doing, and that you just want to help them,” she said.
Finch has witnessed a few memorable reactions while handing out blankets, including one man who started to cry.
“I guess he had had a rough go of it,” she said. “I gave him a hug and sent him on his way.”
The blankets provide assistance and warmth as temperatures drop in North Carolina.
But Jamie Rohe, homeless programs coordinator for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, said she would like to see the community address the longer-term causes of homelessness.
In 2014, there were an estimated 108 homeless people living in Orange County, but there was no actual street count due to inclement weather. Rohe considers this a conservative estimate because the number is largely based on shelter capacity. Almost half of the homeless population is recorded as having a serious mental illness.
The Furniture Project, started by former UNC students, is an additional way for residents and students to help their community. The project collects donated furniture to deliver to families that have been recommended by local service organizations.
“For students, it’s important to think about helping people help themselves and getting to root causes of homelessness instead of putting a Band-Aid on it,” Rohe said.
Finch said that, this year, she saw fewer people out on the street than ever before.
“Someone, somewhere, is doing something right,” she said.