Woman fights poverty one state at a time
Shay Kelley fights poverty of the heart, not just the purse. When she gives to the homeless and the poor, she does it in person, with a hug or a handshake - and not in one state, but in all 50. Last year, she traveled to 50 states in 50 weeks, and now she’s doing it all over again, this time with her husband by her side.
Kelley will stop in Bridgewater as part of the Seventh Annual Bridgewater Celebration for Peace, which starts Saturday. It runs through Wednesday, when she will speak at Bridgewater State University after helping local volunteers distribute donations to charities. Though Kelley sometimes works with nonprofit groups, she said she prefers to give directly to people on the streets.
“It’s so simple: meet people, love people,’’ she said by phone from Vermont.
Kelley and her husband, Shane Patrick, have given away tens of thousands of donated items this year, including food, toiletries, and much-needed socks for people who live on the streets.
It all started in 2009 when Kelley, then a recent college graduate, lost her job at a Mississippi marketing company. She was 23 years old. She drained her savings trying to pay the rent. Eventually, she was evicted.
“I was so confused, because here I had followed all the rules, you know, like the American dream,’’ she said.
She said she had thought her life would move through predictable stages - career, family, retirement. But it seemed to be taking a different turn. A woman of faith, she started talking to God about it.
“I was trying to think what good would come of it, and I started thinking about my bucket list,’’ she said.
High on that list was seeing America and taking photographs of the people she met and the places she visited. The idea for a service trip began to evolve.
In the past, her mental image of helping the poor was a wealthy person starting a foundation. But her experience with homelessness - and sleeping on the couch of a new friend she just met - taught her she didn’t need wealth to help people in need.
Since January of last year, she’s been traveling the country with her dog, Zuzu, sleeping in her truck, eating and volunteering in soup kitchens, collecting goods, and giving them away. She catches a shower about once a week at the homes of people who’ve read about her or seen a story on television. She chronicles her progress at www.project-5050.com, and organizers of the Bridgewater Celebration for Peace contacted her through the website.
Bridgewater’s annual event brings together the First Parish Church (Unitarian Universalist), Bridgewater United Methodist Church, and the Social Justice League of Bridgewater State University. Nikki Sauber, a student and member of the league, said the peace celebration supports the club’s mission and strengthens connections between the university and the town.
The celebration starts Saturday at 1 p.m. with a 24-hour peace vigil. Activities and programs will take place at the churches during the vigil, and a 2 p.m. procession is planned for Saturday around the center of Bridgewater. Sunday begins with a sunrise meditation, followed by a morning service, picnic, and closing of the vigil.
On Monday, a panel discussion titled “Street Children: Legacy of War and Poverty’’ will be held at 7 p.m. in the university library. The topic relates to Bridgewater’s One Book, One Community selection, “Dragon House,’’ a novel by John Shors about children living on the streets of Vietnam.
A potluck dinner will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Parish Church. On Wednesday, Kelley will join in the distribution of donations to two local groups: School on Wheels of Massachusetts, which provides tutoring and school supplies to children affected by homelessness, and A New Day, which helps people who experience sexual or relationship violence. At 7 p.m. she is scheduled to speak about her cross-country journey at St. Basil’s Chapel on the university campus.
Donations can be dropped off at the chapel Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a list of what to donate and other information, visit the First Parish blog at www.firstparishbridgewater.blogspot.com.
Jennette Barnes can be reached at email@example.com.