Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Kristen Weinberg. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Point of Light.
Kristen Weinberg wanted to mark her 50th birthday with something especially meaningful — donations of 50 items to 12 different charities throughout the year. After encouragement from her husband to invite others to participate, Kristen asked family and friends if they wanted to join in as well. Within two weeks, 30 different donation projects were in the works across multiple states. From that initial idea, What’s Your 50? was born.
In the over two years since it began, Kristen’s What’s Your 50? movement has completed 300 donation projects in nine different states. The donations have ranged from toys for hospitalized children to more recently, furniture for Afghan refugees newly placed in apartments. Through What’s Your 50?, Kristen is hoping to spread the message that anyone can get involved in philanthropy.
Describe how you started What’s Your 50?.
I was coming up on my 50th birthday and I decided I was going to help 12 charities that year to represent the 12 months. I was going to donate 50 items to each charity. My husband was like, woah, that’s a lot of items. Let’s spread it out to family and friends and ask people, if you could help a charity or an organization or a hospital or anyone, what would you do to help them with an increment of 50? Within less than two weeks, we had 30 different projects being rolled out across multiple states. It took off from there as a movement. I continue to ask the question, if you could help the world, what would you do in an increment of 50 to make a difference?
It’s been heartwarming to see all the incredible ways people can help that are so easy, so simplistic, so strong, and make such an impact when they seem like such a minor thing — like for example, socks. My husband found out that the men’s shelters never receive socks. It’s the most needed, least donated item. So he said, “I’m going to try to collect 50 pairs of socks.” People flooded him with socks. He got over 340 pairs. When he delivered them to the men’s shelter, they were completely overwhelmed with excitement, because it meant that many men were going to get a fresh new pair of socks.
Have any What’s Your 50 projects particularly stuck with you?
There’s been tons. One I always like to comment with women — how many of us have a bra? A perfectly good bra that sits in the back of your drawer for whatever reason. So I said, “Ladies, we’re all going to yank that one bra out of the drawer and I’m going to collect 50 of them.” I gave them to a charity whose primarily purpose is to collect bras and give them to less fortunate women. They’re extremely expensive and what’s the point of keeping them in the back of our drawer if we’re never going to wear them?
How can people get involved in this movement?
There’s the Facebook page, which is a group page that allows people to make their own comments. They would say, “I’ve joined the What’s Your 50? movement, I would like to collect 50” of whatever the case may be. My girlfriend said she wanted to collect makeup, because she went through a rough patch and it took every inch of her being to get up every morning and start her day. She said, “Kristen, this sounds menial and silly, but mascara and lipstick got my day started and empowered me to keep going. I would like to collect 50 pieces of makeup for women of a battered and abused shelter.” She posted on social media, ‘Please help me, I’m trying to collect 50 pieces of brand new makeup. I have a basket on my front door or you can order directly from websites and mail it to me.’ She was able to give 150 lipsticks, mascaras, and eye shadows to a battered and abused center in downtown D.C. and the women were absolutely thrilled.
Why do you think this movement resonates so much with people?
Because you can do it from the comfort of your home, from the comfort of your own community. You can see these simple, affordable, taken-for-granted items can make such a huge impact. One man donated to a food bank and his client started crying on the telephone when he said he donated [50 boxes of] cereal. She said, “I grew up depending on food donated from food banks. No one ever thinks to donate cereal.” For a kid to see a box of cereal in their bag of donations was like liquid gold to them, because most people donate what, the thing in the back of their pantry that they’re never going to want to eat? To get something as simple as a box of cereal is phenomenal. It makes people realize wow, I really can help, and it’s easy and it’s fun and it’s simple. It’s the simple things we all live with everyday that make a big impact.
What are your future goals with this movement?
I want more people to try it out. I want more people to dip their toes in philanthropy. Mr. Rogers was an awesome TV show I watched as a kid, where he was all about community and kindness. There was a famous quote he said — when he would turn on the news and see awful things going on, his mom would say look for the helpers. If you see the helpers, it will make you feel better. I want to add to that, look for the helpers and ask them what can we do to help you, because chances are the things they need are the basics that you’ll be able to get. Give them that extra help they need in order to help the world, be it socks, canned green beans, hot sauce, bras.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
To know that the little things we do make such a big impact and that even something as simple as a soccer ball can change the life of a child who can’t afford a soccer ball. I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Montgomery County is one of the top wealthiest counties in the country. A teacher in Montgomery County said if I could get a What’s Your 50?, I would love for you to give me 50 ziplock baggies, each of them containing two sharpened pencils and a box of crayons, because my students can’t complete their homework because they do not own a pencil. … We were able to put together 175 ziplock baggies with sharpened pencils and crayons, and she was able to give them out to multiple kids in multiple grades knowing they’re now going to be able to do their homework. Something as simple as a pencil, a basic tool that’s going to change a child’s life and better their educational learning. It baffles my mind how easy it is to make a difference with something as simple as a sharpened pencil.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Our world is drowning, and the life preservers that they need are so incredibly easy. For whatever reason, nobody talks about how easy it is to make that impact and to help. It could even be as simple as writing 50 letters to the staff at the hospital saying we see you and we appreciate you.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
That helping is so incredibly easy and fun. You just need to pick a person, place, or thing and ask them, what can I do to be that louder voice that can help you? You’re going to be amazed at how easy it is to help.
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