Ryan Toole, third-year advertising student, handing out handmade sandwiches to a homeless man. He and his friend Adam Balakin, a fourth-year English major, handed out sandwiches and documented their experience helping Fresno's homeless community. (Courtesy of Ryan Toole)

These two students are feeding the homeless, and they need your help

Millions of families will come together this holiday season to enjoy festivities and new or old traditions.

For two Fresno State students, a new tradition for them during the holidays will be to bring awareness about homelessness and delivering food to those who call the streets home.

One of those students, Ryan Toole, third-year advertising student, went on a trip with the Advertising Club to an agency near the Poverello House and saw first-hand the conditions of the impoverished area around it.

The Poverello House, which offers food, rehabilitation, hygiene products and a place for the homeless to sleep at night, is a shelter near downtown serving the homeless and hungry in the Central Valley.

When Toole noticed on his recent trip that the Poverello House’s small housing community was overflowing with people in need of help, “the lightbulb clicked in my head that we needed to do something,” he said.

So he called his friend, Adam Balakin, a fourth-year English major, to help purchase supplies and prepare sandwiches. They delivered the lunches on Thanksgiving Day.

They ventured to a local Walmart, where they purchased cheese, ham, water bottles and chips before heading back to Balakin’s home to prepare 50 lunches. It took them no more than two hours, Toole said. Once finished, they loaded the lunches into a car and took them to the streets surrounding Poverello House.

Toole and Balakin filmed the process to document the hardships faced within the homeless community and to offer a chance for others to help. The first part of the mini-documentary was released to YouTube on Nov. 26 and has quickly gained views.

Toole described the sight as “overwhelming,” as video showed lines of tents covering four blocks and people with their scarce belongings. Many told Balakin that they were veterans.

“Even though we expected a lot of people to be there, the sheer amount of tents and people we saw was startling,” Balakin says in the video. Some people asked not to be filmed so Balakin honored their request.

In less than 15 minutes, the lunches were nearly gone.

“They were helping each other out,” Balakin said. “Some people were handing out bags to people in wheelchairs. They were being generous with each other.”

Toole said that handing out lunches was overwhelming in itself. Although he was happy to be able to give some help to the homeless, he knew that there is more that people do. He said he was humbled by the overall experience and enjoyed a few long conversations with the people between their stops.

“If more and more people take action and they try to help in whichever way they see they can, maybe we could prevent it before it becomes something like Skid Row in L.A.,” he said.

The students decided to bring food to the area again. The second time they set a goal to double the amount of sandwiches and to bring blankets, as well. Since posting their video online, many have reached out to Toole and Balakin asking to help.  

“We have so much help now, we feel like we could do so much more,” Balakin said. “Whatever we get is going to get sent out.”

Toole and Balakin are looking to rent a location for their second trip on Dec. 16. They planned it to take place after finals in hopes to get more students involved with the effort. Their goal is clear – begin their own new tradition of exhibiting the good that there is within individuals during the holiday season.

The two students have set up a donation page to collect funds for supplies. Their initial goal was to raise $30, but due to an increase in interested volunteers, they are looking to raise it.

“People want to help, they just don’t know how,” Balakin said.

Interested participants can find more information at https://goo.gl/forms/pDPvoqSqj4PhdjP22 or donate at www.youcaring.com/helpingfresnohomelessness.