At the 2013 Lexington Farmers’ Market, Alex Wu ’21 and Allison Wu ’23 sold handmade origami every Sunday afternoon in support of Housing Families, a homeless shelter in Malden— the beginning of the siblings’ eight-year involvement with the organization. This summer, Alex and Allison spearheaded Housing Families’ first food pantry and Little Free Library in Malden. Both are part of Housing Families’ Community Resource Hub, a building in Malden for the homeless to find meals and shelter which is replacing Housing Families’ first shelter. The Resource Hub officially opened on August 31, when the siblings helped cut the ceremonial ribbon with other Housing Families’ staff and volunteers.
“It was great for everyone to see all the volunteers’ hard work pay off,” Alex said.
Alex specifically worked with volunteers to stock and organize the food pantry.
Alex was inspired to set up the food pantry, he said, after spending several years as a counselor for Housing Families’ summer program.
“I have gotten to know many of the families,” Alex said. “I knew that creating a food pantry could help sustain them for a long time.”
Constructing the food pantry was a laborious but rewarding effort, Alex said, and his role involved mapping out the space and managing a group of volunteers and tasks each day.
“It was quite chaotic,” Alex said. “One day, after cutting all the supplies from hundreds of boxes, it looked like the floor was made of cardboard, but everyone collaborated well and got the job done.”
Alex and Allison assembled a team of 15 students and three faculty members from the school to volunteer at the food pantry this summer.
“I believe in the mission of Housing Families, and I wanted to play a role and do what I could,” Upper School Math and Computer Science Teacher Hannah Saris said. “I thought Alex did an amazing job getting the food pantry up and running. It was so organized.
While Alex focused on the food pantry, Allison pioneered the Little Free Library and Housing Families’ Youth Service & Engagement Program (YSEP) with help from the school community.
Allison wanted to promote a love of reading through the Little Free Library, she said.
“Books are not only entertainment and a learning resource but a way to spark the imagination and innovation in children. We might take having books for granted, but many children at Housing Families don’t have access to their own books.”
Through YSEP, middle and high school students learn about Housing Families, homelessness, and ways they can help combat homelessness through a nine-week program filled with presentations, discussions, and a capstone service project. For their project, Sophie Li ’22 and Evan Zhang’s ’21 ran a school-wide book drive last spring to help stock Housing Families’ Little Free Library. Though they aimed for 50 books, Sophie said, they collected over 225 books from the school community.
Sophie and Evan researched the cause before starting the project, which made the experience more meaningful, Sophie said.
“I learned about the difference between serving and helping,” she said. “Serving is more of a commitment, and you get a connection with whom you’re serving. Because we did all this research beforehand, we were very conscious of what we were actually doing.”
Alex and Allison hope to continue their work with Housing Families in the future through volunteering and organizing YSEP meetings, and Housing Families plans for the food pantry and Little Free Library to remain permanent fixtures in the Community Resource Hub.