It's impossible to drive through the streets of Los Angeles, see the growing numbers of homeless people along the river and under bridges, and not feel helpless. That's where Erica Wright comes in. As the Atlanta-based non-profit's website states, Erica and her team are "dedicated to serving the homeless with the basic necessities in effort to restore their dignity to lead a healthy and whole life. This foundation is fueled solely on volunteer efforts, donations, and community support."
Sitting across from Erica we learned some incredible insights about how everyday people can help with this issue in a variety of ways. And people can assist Project U First directly by donating items to help them make "Love Bags" that include necessities like toothpaste, soap and washcloths that her team distributes to the homeless.
Erica's vision is to have a mobile U First presence that she can take on the road to touch even more people. We have no doubt that she'll make her dream a reality. And in the meantime, she'll continue to inspire people to reach out to those in need in their own communities.
To find out more about how you can help, listen to this week's episode and read this brief excerpt of our conversation with Erica.
Passionistas: What are you most passionate about?
Erica Wright: Right now, I'm definitely passionate about helping the homeless community bringing dignity back to their lives. I've experienced being homeless myself and I know what it feels like to meet someone. Sometimes your ego will allow you not to want to reach out to people. And so I just had a great group of people around me supporting me who pour it back into me even in the time of need. And so the spirit has never left me. And even at a young age I've always felt like we could always do more because of the things that we have and so it's just been a passion of mine and to just give back to those in need.
Passionistas: How did that journey start? What was the seed of the idea to start doing this and how did it develop?
Erica Wright: About 10 years ago, I saw this lady under the bridge, literally using a bottle of water to wash her hair. And It was cool that morning and I could see the steam coming from her head and it never left my spirit. I went through a bad breakup and I knew that I had a purpose and a passion and I needed to birth something. And so, August the 7th, 2014, I woke up from a dream and God had given me a vision. And I was like Paul, I just wrote out all of the things that were going to come forth with helping people and the name U First came about. And so, I didn't know what it was going to look like I didn't have any money and didn't have any credit and I had a blueprint. So, I heard this whisper, truly from God to use social media. And so what I would do, I spoke at Sunday school about my passion and my dream and my vision and two ladies from Sunday school started bringing hygiene items for the love bags. So I was able to put the kits together and that's how it started. So once people started getting engaged, with it I post it on social media and I would say, "Hey thank you Miss Jackson for donating two tubes of the toothpaste." And it just became contagious people from all over the place, I mean different states would just send items. And it's just been it's been amazing.
Passionistas: Have you ever thought of giving up?
Erica Wright: Oh my gosh. Yes. There was one day I was going to throw in the towel. And of course by being a barber by trade I would do mobile haircuts. I have a guy who's in a wheelchair. So this particular morning I was like I'm just done, I'm done. So he wrote me a check and I left. And I had 20 dollars in my pocket. And so I saw this lady a homeless lady. She had all of her cans and bags in her shopping cart. And I said you know what I got some luggage in my trunk that somebody donated. I'm out, I'm going to give this out and I'm done.
So I pulled over and I got out of the car, spoke to the lady and she was kind of talking a little bit out of her head. And she came over to the back of the car and she said, "I knew you were coming." And I said, "Excuse me?" She said, "I knew you were coming." She said, "You know somebody stole my luggage last week." And I was like, thinking to myself, "No, I don't even know you."
And so, I started to cry because when I opened the trunk, I had the luggage. And so it was as if God had sent an angel to say to me, "I have your back." And so right before I pulled off the Holy Spirit told me to plant a seed and give her the 20 dollars. And I was like no way I got to get gas, I got to take care of this, I gotta get something to eat. And so I turned around and gave her to twenty dollars. And she looked at it and she kind of started talking out of her head a little bit. And she turned around to me and looked me in my eyes and she said, "When you get your 501c3, doors and windows will open up beyond anything you can imagine."
And I knew then that that was God's way of letting me know that I will always supply your needs and not to worry just keep doing what you're doing. And I cried, she cried. And I said, "God I'll never give up. I will never throw in the towel." So, that was one of those incredible moments in my life. Never forget it. Never forget her.
Passionistas: How can people specifically help U First? Where do they go? What do you need from people right now?
Erica Wright: We have a wish list on our website which is ProjectUFirst.org. Also we have a page on Facebook. We have a group on Facebook called the Project U First and we're on Twitter — ProjectUFirst, as well — and Instagram. Also on the wish list through our website, you can you know, if you want to send items to us, so if people like to buy like a gift card, all of those links are on there. And we're definitely in need of, again, the items that we have printed on there. Just coming off this last trip has depleted our inventory, so we could use those items.
Donate to Project U First here.
Listen to the full podcast here.