ORLANDO — Beth Rodriguez was watching a segment of “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, when a report on homelessness in America shocked her, sickened her, and left her feeling she needed to do something, and fast.
The reason the segment had such a strong impact was because it was filmed here in Central Florida.
The “60 Minutes” episode was about local families so badly hurt by the recession, they either had been forced to live in local hotel rooms because they could no longer afford a house or apartment – or they were living in their cars or vans. It put the spotlight on a painful subject, including the desperate need to feed hungry families in this region.
As Rodriguez noted, it opened her eyes — and made her feel like she had literally gotten a call to action.
“I watched it, and Central Florida is the highest rated for homeless children in the United States,” she said. “I knew this was going on, but I didn’t realize the extent of the children who are homeless. They showed whole families living in their vans and cars. That just flabbergasted me.”
Rodriguez, who lives in Orlando and is now studying to get a degree in criminal justice, decided on the spur of the moment to do something. Together with her daughter, Jade, they began reaching out today to organizations that assist the homeless — and then went a step further. The Rodriguez family is organizing a new group called Collecting Items for the Homeless Coalition. She launched the drive today at 10 a.m., and plans to continue this ambitious drive through Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 10 a.m.
“That’s what we wanted, for this to be a long-term project,’ she said. “This has always been my thing, and it has always been my family’s thing, to go out and help others.”
Between now and then, Rodriguez said, she hopes a lot of people learn about the coalition and make donations to it. Everything they give, she said, will go directly to homeless families struggling to survive in this tough economy.
Watching the “60 Minutes” segment, she said, “I was thinking this could easily be me,” she said. “Being in criminal justice, with juveniles, it’s my biggest thing. I can’t even imagine what these families must be thinking. I was horrified.”
Beth Rodriguez and her daughter started a Facebook page today, which can be accessed by logging on to Facebook.
“Me and my daughter decided to do this ourselves,” she said. “We actually saw the show last night, and jumped on it. Now it’s something we can’t stop.”
As the Facebook page notes, “All personal products need to be new, no used clothes, personal products, baby formula, etc. If you can help me in anyway to donate, please email me at email@example.com or text me 702-862-0709.“
They have a list of items they’re going to be collecting on the site.
“If you wanted to go to the Dollar Store or Wal-Mart, that’s fine,” Beth Rodriguez said. “If you want to donate money, that’s fine, too. We will do anything we can to get these kids off the streets.”
She also hopes to build a much larger coalition with other groups now working to assist the homeless, particularly during the holidays. There are groups that buy toys and other gifts for children whose parents couldn’t afford to get them something, and Rodriguez said an even better idea could be to raise the money to find these families a place to stay in.
“Instead of buying presents for these families, why don’t we put a roof over their head instead, and maybe we can put them in a hotel for a month until dad gets back on his feet,” she said.
To learn more, Rodriguez said people can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, she plans to keep reaching other to other existing programs that service the homeless, and hopefully, she said, build the largest coalition imaginable.
“There’s so many connections we have right now,” she aid. “We’re trying to get all these people together as one.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.