OGDEN, Utah — A Utah family is using their fence to create change in their community, helping those in need with one jacket, blanket — or even toy — at a time.
On a cold, dark winter night, you can find dozens of people experiencing homelessness wandering the streets near the Ogden Rescue Mission.
“You go outside, your hair feels frozen, your toes instantly get cold … it’s just freezing,” said Lizzy Lawrence as she stood outside of her home in Ogden, Utah.
Having experienced homelessness at a young age, it’s a reality Lawrence knows all too well.
“I feel like a lot of people feel like homeless people are lazy and you don’t know their struggles,” she said. “It’s not something you choose, a lot of people don’t choose to be homeless.”
Today, she lives in a quaint house with her family near the Rescue Mission. Her house isn’t hard to spot — just cross the street, head down the block and look for the house with a white picket fence piled high with clothes.
“We've got backpacks, scarves, hats — one lady brought snowboarding stuff, boots. We actually got hand warmers, food, all kinds of stuff,” Lawrence said as she listed off some of the items covering her fence and front lawn, free for the taking.
It’s just a 6-foot section of fence, but right now it’s stacked with blankets, jackets and other cold-weather necessities for all ages.
Alongside the stacks, passersby are greeted by a sign which reads, "If you need these, please take what you need. If you have something to leave please do, someone in need will use them."
“(Size) 2T snow pants that might be needed,” Lawrence said as she patted the navy blue bibs. “We also have some baby clothes and baby shoes if needed, you never know.”
If you look in the plastic bins sitting on the grass below, there is even more.
“Some stuffed animals,” Lawrence said as she dug through one of the bins jam-packed with toys.
The concept is as simple as the sign entails — if you need it, take it. If you have it, leave it.
“Some people need jackets, some people need food, toys for their kids because they couldn’t buy any for Christmas,” Lawrence said.
The family started the project a few weeks ago after Lawrence saw a homeless man sleeping on the lawn across the street from her home without a blanket or jacket.
“Well, hey, I have lots of jackets and hats that me and my kids don’t need and my husband,” she said.
So she started her very own "giving fence," loading it with items from her own home and things she could afford to buy. The items went quickly so she decided to take it a step further, reaching out to her community via social media for more donations. What she got in return was more than she could have ever hoped for.
“It was amazing to see other people were willing to help just like I was,” Lawrence said. “There’s been moments where I feel like nobody really cared and now I’m like, 'OK, humanity is OK.' ”
Now, what started as a project to provide last-minute items for warmth has turned into a gift for any family or person who may need a little bit of help.
“This is for single parents, this is for people that are living on the streets, this is people that have everyday jobs that just didn’t have money to get something they needed,” Lawrence said.
“They feel embarrassed asking for help and this is a place that they don’t have to see me, they don’t have to see the people that donated it, they don’t have to let anybody know where they got it, they just have what they needed,” Lawrence continued. “People get in tough spots and it’s OK.”
It may be just a fence, and everything on it and around it is just stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s the small things — like a little girl picking out a well-loved purple dinosaur — that truly make a difference.
“Is that what you want?” a mom asked her daughter as she pulled the purple dino from the toy bin. “Yeah!” the little girl said.
“Say, ‘thank you,’ ” the mom responded. “Thank you!” the little girl shouted with a big grin.
“That smile just made me so happy and so warm, it made me feel really good,” Lawrence said as she clasped her hands at her heart and watched the two walk away.
Lawrence hopes to keep the giving going as long as she can. If you have items you would like to donate, just look for the white fence across the street from the Marshall White Community Center in Ogden.