Holly Jackson believes in the power of small things, like the impact kind words can have on a stranger or the way a $2 bottle of shampoo can afford something as invaluable as human dignity.
Over the past year, the Cleveland resident watched 26,000 people benefit from small things. Each small thing was attached to a Wall of Love.
To a passerby, these walls might seem like an obscure art project: Zip-tied to fences across Ohio are Ziploc bags full of everything from hats and hand warmers to school supplies and sunscreen. But near each wall is a sign that reads, “Please take what you need. Leave the rest for others. Pay it forward when you can.”
They’re put together by the nonprofit Walls of Love, which provides basic necessities to people experiencing homelessness. The walls are assembled by Jackson and volunteers who gather materials, bag them and find a safe, willing location to post the items
A key to the walls’ success is the role of anonymity. Jackson, who experienced homelessness 28 years ago when she left an abusive relationship, is familiar with the stigmas of asking for help. When she left her home pregnant with nothing, she learned quickly that because she had a job, she didn’t qualify for financial assistance. Jackson recalled how hard it was to ask for help and how it was even harder to not receive it.
With the Walls of Love, there are no criteria or requirements to getting what you need.
Beyond supplying basic necessities, the walls also serve as a reminder that “you’re not just some random person. Somebody out there loves you,” Jackson told NationSwell.
While Jackson was sleeping on the streets and in shelters, she felt like she was just a number.
“Whether you’re a number for food stamps or a number for medical or a number for waiting in line for the soup kitchen or a number to get into a bed at night, you’re just a number,” she said. “And I wanted people to not feel that way.”
The idea for Walls of Love came when Jackson saw a family last October with no hats, no gloves, no coats, no socks and wearing flip flops. Jackson decided to do something to help people in similar situations.
“I had wished there was just a magic wall where people could get anything that they needed and there was no stigma, no judgment,” Jackson recalled.
Then she realized she can build that wall. She started fundraising, collecting materials and volunteers. The first wall was built outside the police department in Lorain, Ohio.
One wall became two, which became a dozen. Nearly a year later, and Walls of Love has built over 195 walls and helped 26,000 people. On Nov. 9, to celebrate one year, Jackson and a team of volunteers will build 25 walls all in the same day.
Jackson, who has a full-time job outside of Walls of Love, plans to take the momentum into this upcoming year. Her target goal is 500 walls across the country and constructing 216 in a single day (216 is Cleveland’s area code).
Right now, a majority of the walls function as “pop-up walls,” meaning that once all the items are gone that wall is done. But Jackson’s goal is to work with groups to create sustainable walls that are continuously restocked as the seasons change.
But either way, she said, “anybody that we can help, even if it’s just one time, is better than not helping anyone at all.”
Walls of Love is currently in need of both volunteers and donations. If you’re interested in starting a wall in your community, email [email protected].