Homelessness is an issue I continue to revisit time and time again. It’s one that, if you’ve got a heart, easily tugs at the heartstrings and begs the question “What can we do to help?” Unlike other issues, it’s one that I think hits a little close to home (pun intentional and relevant). I mean that in the sense that there are few among us who don’t know what it’s like to be down on our luck. It’s easy to see how homelessness comes to be, and with that, comes a little bit of the realization that it could be any of us looking for a place to lay our head at night. Luckily, that sentiment is echoed by many, which is why there are so many unique initiatives inspired by the homeless epidemic. One which has recently held my attention, restored my faith in humanity, and captured the headlines of newspapers here and there is Action Hunger, a creative nonprofit battling homelessness one vending machine at a time.
Now, if you’re like me, you might swear up and down that there’s no way a vending machine can be a beacon for a good cause. In my experience, they are dimly lit temptations that hypnotize me when I see them down the hall, and before I know it I’m eating Reeses and drinking Mountain Dew like I’ve got nothing to live for. These vending machines though, I assure you, are a different story.
Instead of finding junk food to lure innocent bystanders away from fitness goals, or providing sugar to the masses, these are filled with things like bottled water, fresh fruit, and energy bars…not to mention purposeful items such antibacterial ointment, socks, washcloths, toothbrushes, and more. The provisions, of course, don’t cost money, but instead require the insert of a special key card that is available through another organization called The Friary, which is a center designated for the homeless. Both organizations are located in the UK.
For Action Hunger, the vending machine idea was a simple way to eliminate some of the hurdles that other organizations addressing homelessness face, such as time and money. Speaking to their novel idea on their about page, the company writes:
“The immediate benefit of our vending machines is that they satiate hunger and provide nourishment to the most vulnerable members of society. They permit access to food and clothing free of charge at any hour without requiring anyone to be left without aid outside the operating hours of the various charities and shelters that are available. Our machines are also very inexpensive and economical to run, as we don’t have the attendant costs of running a physical premises, and the automated nature of the machines supplant the need for many staff – a bank of volunteers manage the day to day operation. Furthermore, at a time when government cuts in funding for local councils has decimated lots of the resources available, and had debilitating effects on those services that do remain, our machines serve as a novel solution.”
Huzaifah Khaled, the mastermind behind the vending machine idea, became intimately familiar with the homeless population and their needs when traveling back and forth during his pursuit of a PHD in law. On the trains, where he found homeless people in throngs, he learned about the basic necessities that they have trouble getting access to, and became ultra-aware of the limited hours at shelters that can be a hurdle for many.
Khaled’s vision has been thorough to say the least. The machines limit folks to getting no more than three items per day, which Action Hunger believes will help to eliminate the possibility of individuals becoming dependent on what they can expect to get from them. The mission is truly based around being a complement to other helpful services and non-profits in the area – to ultimately help those experiencing homelessness find their way back to a plan.
According to The Washington Post, Khaled’s vision will not stop in the UK. In fact, there will be an Action Hunger in New York as soon as February, with plans to also get into Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Stateside companies the non-profit is in cahoots with include Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and Tyson Foods. Speaking like someone who is truly invested and passionate about the issues as hand Khaled talked to the Post about the future of his project, hoping that one day it won’t be needed:
“In an ideal world, I would never have needed to start this charity. I would love nothing more than to shutter this charity next week.”