Farris Johnson couldn't get the stories out of her mind, nor did she want to.
The Lexington High senior had long known of the challenges facing the homeless population.
But recently those challenges struck closer to home.
Johnson has been serving as a campaign ambassador with the United Way of the Midlands since the summer. When the agency's recent homeless count revealed the disproportionate number of homeless people living in Lexington and Richland counties, it left an impression.
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"Being in a rural community, you don't see the homeless as often," she said. "As it turns out, there are people living out in the woods in campsites, and I was not aware of that."
Determined to help, Johnson organized a supply drive at her school to support the United Way's Hands for the Homeless, which gathered personal care supplies for shelters serving the homeless in the area.
Last week she and others at her school gathered to sort and deliver the 56 bars of soap, 30 bottles of lotion, 64 tubes of toothpaste and the more than 750 other personal care items brought in by students and faculty members.
Johnson said when she brought the idea to the school, she was immediately greeted with support.
"The Key Club and student council jumped on immediately," she said. "They've been putting the word out on their Facebook pages. It's been overwhelming support."
She added while the personal items are desperately needed, she hopes the drive will generate greater awareness of homeless issues among her peers.
Her own awareness was heightened last year, when she took part in a Homeless for the Homeless event put on by Midtown Church and again in recent months while at the United Way.
"I really enjoy what I do at the United Way but I really felt it was important that I take it back to my student body," she said. "That's always been an issue that's been close to me. I've really made it my goal to educate people at my school about the issues in my community, and homeless is one of my top ones."
Help for the Homeless
Midlands residents who wish to help the area's homeless can do so in several ways.
- Donate personal care items to United Way of the Midlands, 1800 Main St., Columbia. Contact Jennifer Moore at (803) 733-5421.
- Donate gently used winter coats, blankets or clothing to Richland County: Cooperative Ministry, 3821 W. Beltline Blvd., Columbia; or to Lexington Interfaith Community Services, 216 Harmon St., Lexington.
- Volunteer at the Winter Shelter. Workers are needed from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. each day through the end of March. For more information or to volunteer, contact the Cooperative Ministry at (803) 799-3853.