There was something so extraordinary about the woman, Kaitlyn Watson couldn’t forget.
The Quail Hollow Middle school student was at Pineville United Methodist Church with her church’s youth group last winter to help homeless people through the Urban Ministry Center program Room in the Inn. One middle aged woman was a talented artist who it seems, could draw anything. But that wasn’t all that Kaitlyn found compelling.
“I thought she looked kind of down and didn’t have any money,” said Kaitlyn, a 12-year-old, seventh-grader from Pineville who was with a group from Stough Memorial Baptist. “She was very nice and polite. She could hand-draw animals and sports or anything that you wanted her to draw. I didn’t know that she was that talented when I first saw her.
“If you liked one of her drawings, you could just give her a price. She didn’t care. She didn’t want to give you a price because she didn’t know how much money you had. I bought one of her drawings and it made me happy because she could go out and buy her some food and writing utensils that she used for her drawings.”
Kaitlyn was so moved that she started her own community service project. “Love Thy Neighbor” is her effort to collect travel size toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, mouthwash, razors, shower caps and body wash for the more than 7,000 people in Mecklenburg County without a safe place to sleep. Items will go to Room in the Inn, which provided 17,184 overnight accommodations to 1,555 different people in the 2011-12 season.
The Town of Pineville has agreed to let Kaitlyn place collection boxes at the Pineville Town Hall, Pineville Police Department and Pineville Telephone & Electric Co. The boxes will stay out through Dec. 31. There are no other drop-off sites.
The woman Kaitlyn encountered last winter had plenty of company.
“When I saw that they only had a mattress and one sheet and a blanket to sleep with, I felt bad because they didn’t have anything else,” she said. “Before they went to Room in the Inn, they were just sleeping in the streets and under bridges and stuff. They don’t have a safe place to sleep like I do.”
She said she had collected more than 1,000 items as of mid-October with the help of church friends who’ve helped with donations. Her project couldn’t succeed without the help of her mother and father, who “help me by bringing me free stuff from hotels when they have to take a work trip or something.
“My mom and dad drive me to different places to see if I can set up boxes to collect donations and to talk to people about hanging up flyers so people can read them. My mom also takes me to check my boxes to get the donations.”
Her mother, Tammy Watson, is happy to do what she can: “We (she and her husband, Joseph) offer suggestions here and there, but ... this is all her. It was her idea.”
Kaitlyn reminded that donations should be “small enough that you can put them in a bag, like travel size. Please donate items that have not been opened or are too old. They need basic stuff and don’t forget about toothpaste and toothbrushes.”
She downplayed her personal sacrifice in the effort, which she treats as a natural extension of what she has been taught.
“Our neighbors are just like you and me,” she said. "They are young and old. ... The bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. God loves us, so we also must love one another. This is just a small way of showing God’s love.”