By Niki Fritz
Most of us in grad school are in a constant shortage of time; there are never enough days for running subjects, hours for research or minutes for breaks. All of this can leave us feeling like we are stuck in a crimson-hued IU bubble. When Garrett Poortinga, who is currently working on his MS (Production and Management), started to feel this way last year, he thought up a capstone project that connected with an often invisible part of Bloomington community – the homeless population.
“I’m born and raised Bloomington. I’ve been fortunate and I have all these resources. But there is this invisible border, between us and this entire community that doesn’t have any of those resources. There is a line; right across the street on Indiana, there are people asking for money to survive,” Garrett said. “We bring in such a large number of people, which helps the IU community grow, but I wanted to see more impact on the community at large.”
Garrett knew he wanted to help the homeless community but he wasn’t sure how he, as a master’s student, could do that. He mentioned it to Steve Krahnke who connected Garrett with the board of the Interfaith Winter Shelter, which provides the homeless community with basic shelter and a meal during the winter months.
The shelter is a collaboration between different faith organizations in Bloomington, each of which hosts the shelter on different nights. Their annual budget is just $35,000, the majority of which goes to one part time security officer and laundry service. The rest of the labor and service, including setting up beds, greeting the participants and cooking meals, is all volunteer.
Another unique aspect of the shelter is that it is open to all even when substance abuse is an issue.
Garrett explains: “People are dying in Bloomington [in the winter] because it is cold. There is not an option for them. Interfaith Shelter offers no barrier entry to a basic human need.”
To see how he could best contribute to a community whose needs he wasn’t familiar with, Garrett met with the shelter leadership a few times to discuss what they needed. They mainly needed a way to raise $35,000 for their annual budget and were considering use of crowdsourcing, a fundraising idea they had heard about but didn’t really know how to execute. Garrett happened to have some experience in crowdsourcing. “It was kismet,” as Garret out it.
Garrett created a promotional video for the shelter and set up a fundraising page on indiegogo . The project closed last Friday, by when it had raised almost $22,000. The story did not end there, as the team was in for a most pleasant surprise. After the project was featured on the front page of the Herald Times, a donor sent in a check for $30,000 – almost the entire annual budget for the shelter! In total, with offline donations as well, the project has raised about $54,000, enough to support the annual budget and then some. Garrett is hoping additional money may be able to support a social worker.
For Garrett, the project was a success not just because they met their financial goal but because they got a chance to connect with the community, including the creative community in Bloomington outside of IU.
“Personally I’ve gotten more of a sense of the community [from this project] … There is a subterranean level of Bloomington that is the community. We are in the bubble of students. When we push against that barrier it can be hard,” Garrett explained. “Through my work I’m trying to find a way, a portal, a mean of communication, between the two worlds.”
Anyone looking to get more involved in their community can sign up to volunteer with the Interfaith Shelter on the indiegogo site.