Small Gifts, Big Hearts

USC College undergraduates display their holiday spirit with on-the-go presents for the homeless.
Pamela J. Johnson

It began with a humble request to undergraduates: If you go on vacation and stay at a hotel, please save the free toiletries for our holiday homeless drive.

The USC chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta did not expect the overwhelming response from kindhearted students. They came in droves to contribute bags and bags filled with travel-sized shampoos, conditioners, toothbrushes, dental floss, shaving cream, deodorant, mouth wash — even fancy perfumes, sleeping masks and socks.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Michael Zobel, USC College biology major and philanthropy chair of Alpha Lambda Delta, the society honoring academic excellence. “We sent out e-mails in April and I was worried that no one would remember to collect items and then bring them to school.”

In all, the College student organizers filled three 50-gallon bins with donated items, which volunteers separated into more than 300 colorful lunch bags and included handwritten “Happy Holiday” notes.

They brought the gifts to the Los Angeles Mission, which serves the homeless living on the streets of downtown’s Skid Row.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at USC so far,” said Zobel, a sophomore also majoring in business administration at Keck School of Medicine of USC. “You can never really give too much. It feels great to work toward a cause.”

Eddie Santiago, Los Angeles Mission’s development associate, gave the students a tour of the shelter when they dropped off the gifts.

Santiago said USC students have volunteered at the shelter for years, but this marked the first visit from USC’s Alpha Lambda Delta members.

“Although they had never been here personally until today, what they sent over inside those gift bags was perfect,” he said. “The heart knows the basic needs and they were great.”

Marc Villain, a sophomore and social chair of the society’s USC chapter, organized the bag-filling events. The enthusiastic students, who wanted to personalize each bag and card, heartened him, as did the entire endeavor.

“It opened my eyes,” Villain said. “A simple bar of soap is something that some people really need. I realized there are a lot of things I take for granted.”

Kris Guzman, office manager in College Advising, worked with students on the gift-giving project.

“I was so moved,” Guzman said of the outpouring of support. “I honestly did not expect this kind of response.”

Zobel, who plans to become a doctor, said the experience inspired him to volunteer his services at clinics serving the underprivileged.

“This is only the beginning,” he said.