In the Spring of 2016, Ali Merchant, a recent graduate from the California State University of Chico, took a definitive step towards making a difference for the homeless community of Sacramento. By providing a nutritious lunch and heartfelt letter to each individual she encountered, Merchant set out on a monthly mission of generosity known as Lunch and a Letter.
What started out as a simple act of charity has grown to include apparel, multiple fundraisers and an upcoming blog, which have set the basis of a nonprofit organization in place. Merchant, an Elk Grove native, is hoping to purpose each of these elements together in order to change the way homeless are treated on a larger scale.
“Somewhere along the lines of growing up we learn that it’s not what you’re supposed to do, you’re not supposed to help them and I find that really bizarre,” said Merchant. “I want to change the way people see it. I want to do little interviews of certain people, just so I can say hey, this is their story, about one situation away from your story and they could all be us and they are us.”
Since April, Lunch and a Letter has crossed paths with more than a thousand lives that have become displaced due to one reason or another. While the meals provided are essential to each individual, Merchant believes the letter, which comes with a list of helpful resources, serves a greater purpose as a reminder for each individual to keep fighting whichever battle they may be facing.
“They know what to do, for the most part,” said Merchant. “It’s just motivating them to want to do that for themselves.”
One of the greatest rewards Merchant has felt from Lunch and a Letter has been the sincere joy and appreciation she sees in each individual.
“Two months ago we put t-shirts in every bag and they were all opening them up and it was like every t-shirt was made for that person,” said Merchant. “They were so excited, it looked like Christmas and they’re just, I don’t know, it was like they were excited for life.”
The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness most recently reported that 27% of homeless deaths in Sacramento are due to substance abuse, 14% are caused by some sort of injury and 6% are due to suicide. Although Merchant admits her efforts are minor in combating these issues, among the rest, she strongly believes in the concept of spreading love and compassion with those who otherwise receive none.
“I don’t think it’s as complicated as people make it out to be,” said Merchant. “At the very least, you know, you can treat them the same way that you would anyone else walking down the street. You can be nice to them [and] you don’t have to always give them money.”
However, Lunch and a Letter would not have gotten as far as it has come, without the support of those who have donated money to its GoFundMe campaign. As of today’s publication, the campaign has raised $2,988 of its $5,000 goal, which has allowed seven successful handouts throughout Sacramento. While Merchant had originally sought out to fund a year’s worth of Lunch and a Letter handouts through the GoFundMe campaign, she has already made plans to seek further funding by selling Lunch and a Letter apparel for humans and handmade bandanas for pets.
Most recently, Merchant’s friends and family have pulled together in different cities conducting a collective sock drive to be included in future handouts.
“I really like how they’re going so I’m probably going to keep that going,” said Merchant. “One of them is at a school and the kids have special needs and they’re collecting the socks and then they’re drawing pictures and they’re writing letters for them there, so I’m going to put those in the bags too.”
Weather-permitting, the next Lunch and a Letter handout is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 28.
To learn more about how to become involved with Lunch and a Letter, follow @LunchandaLetter on Instagram and stay tuned as the official website gets set to launch on January 1, 2017 at LunchAndALetter.org.