It’s conceivable that somewhere in Baltimore tonight there is a family — one that previously lived on the streets — snuggling up in its very own home. That family may not know it, but its homelessness was put to a stop, in part, by a girl set to enter kindergarten next year.
A girl who, like many her age, loves playing with dolls and drawing colorful pictures, but somehow, instinctively, witnessed a social injustice and felt compelled to do something about it.
That girl is 5-year-old Sascha Hurwitz, and her single act inspired countless others to think like her.
It all began in early April when Sascha and her parents, Elizabeth and David Hurwitz, visited the Baltimore Farmers’ Market beneath the Jones Falls Expressway overpass downtown. Sascha noticed a person sleeping under a handful of blankets and asked why this person was there.
Her parents explained that not everyone is fortunate enough to have their own place to live. Sascha’s immediate reaction? “That’s not fair.”
“They had no home, and I wanted to help them,” she said. “They are just like us.”
So, when the family returned home, they hopped on the computer to learn more about Health Care for the Homeless (HCH), an organization in Baltimore that works to thwart homelessness by providing integrated health care and access to affordable housing. Sascha decided to set a goal of $12, which would be amassed by combining coins she had saved and dedicating a large portion of her weekly allowance.
A little more than three weeks later, a thrilled Sascha had surpassed her target and raised a total of $12.09. Her mother called the organization to let them know they’d be dropping off the donation, and when informed of the story, HCH President and CEO Kevin Lindamood agreed to match her gift.
“I found it such an authentic response from a 5-year-old to witness someone sleeping in a place like that and to have the immediate reaction be, ‘I want to raise resources to help people sleeping in the street’— an immediate reaction that says: ‘There is something not right about this,’” Lindamood said.
Lindamood met Sascha and Elizabeth in the HCH lobby and then took them for a tour of the facility. They got to see its children’s playroom and its pediatrics office, where miniature school buses serve as exam tables.
After their experience, Lindamood Tweeted a photo of Sascha with him, relaying the story of her contribution.
The next morning when Lindamood arrived at HCH, there were multiple envelopes, filled with $12.09, stuffed under his door. Staff members were handing him contributions, individuals were walking into their development office with gifts, board members were pledging amounts as well.
In just one week, Sascha’s donation had been matched 390 times, generating a total of $4,727 spread out over 158 donors nationwide who contributed different variations of her original amount. A large portion of the money came from first-time contributors.
“There is every sign that this is only going to grow,” Lindamood said.
In his current position for a year-and-a-half and with the organization for nearly two decades, Lindamood called Sascha’s act one of the most impactful philanthropic contributions he’s ever seen.
“This interaction and this contribution was more striking to me than raising a million dollars for our capital campaign,” he said. “That was pretty remarkable, but to have a 5-year-old girl, moved by what she saw, come in and contribute $12.09 — that interaction has meant even more.”
And, this doesn’t appear to be a one-time thing. Sascha’s tzedakah box already has a Post-it note with a new goal. This time, she wants to raise $19. And, she’s already formulating some ideas of her own on what to do with the money.
“I think they should make more houses for poor people that are for free, so people can just go right in there, and they can just live there instead of having to pay for the houses,” she said.
For one extremely proud mother, the reality that her daughter is already grasping the importance of tzedakah is one thing. The fact that needy people are going to directly benefit from it is a huge bonus.
“For her to have such a positive first foray into philanthropy, where someone takes her seriously, for the CEO to come and meet her, for her to have a tour of the organization and for them to match her gift, for us, all of those things set her on a course we’re so pleased about in terms of her development,” Elizabeth Hurwitz said. “What we’re even more pleased about is that these people who deserve fair treatment are going to have a better shot at it because others have joined this little mini-movement.”
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org