At first glance, Claire Kelley is a normal teenager. She is a junior at North Hall High School, she works as a lifeguard at the J.A. Walters YMCA and goes to church at Lakewood Baptist.
But unlike her peers, the 17-year-old Kelley has managed to find time in between school and work to orchestrate three substantial donation drives that provided carloads of cold-weather clothing to the homeless of Georgia.
Kelley first got the idea of working clothing donations after her first mission trip to SafeHouse Outreach in Atlanta in the sixth grade. According to Kelley, going to SafeHouse that first time so long ago altered her worldview.
“It made me conscious of the homeless,” Kelley said. “I had never seen people that weren’t in the middle class before.”
She explained that her first visit to the charity helped show her that the homeless were people too, and in dire need of help.
Kelley now gets a little help with her project from the Bible study group she holds at her house. She hosted her first drive after this past Thanksgiving, placing boxes for donations at her church and the YMCA.
Kelley said she got an enormous response in that first drive from the two communities, enough that she decided to do it again.
“People were still giving, so I wanted to keep going,” Kelley said.
Her first drive after Thanksgiving raised close to 200 coats for SafeHouse, but the second drive she sponsored after Christmas went beyond what Kelley or her father, David Houston, expected.
“We rushed the second trip down there (to SafeHouse),” Houston said. “We got such a big response, we took the first carload down there early.”
In her last drive that ended at the beginning of February, Kelley ended up collecting more than 25 garbage bags full of clothing, nearly doubling the result from the second drive.
According to Kelley, “it’s really easy to help — way easier than I expected.”
Last year for her birthday, Kelley urged her friends and family to donate toiletries and supplies to SafeHouse instead of bringing her gifts.
“Each season requires different donations depending on the weather,” said Kelley, explaining that SafeHouse needs things like coats, jeans and men’s shoes more in winter months to combat the elements.
Kelley has big plans for next fall, hoping to partner with local businesses to clothe the homeless.
“I’d like to work locally; I just haven’t yet,” Kelley said. “I started working with (SafeHouse) and stayed with it.”
Ways to donate and volunteer can be found by visiting SafeHouse Outreach at safehouseoutreach.org.