Carla puts Christmas spirit into action
Entrepreneur and writer Carla Saunders Zuill is known for her colourful internet postings. Through social networking sites such as Facebook, she acts as an advice clearing house, with people e-mailing her daily about their problems, often relationship oriented.
She takes the most interesting inboxes (Facebook messages) and posts them on Facebook for her hundreds of Facebook friends to give their opinions and advice. Typical questions range from whether a guy is born to cheat, or whether a man should leave his wife if she buys too many shoes, to the best way to make “cookies”, a euphemism better left unexplained.
A year ago she began to notice that among the deluge of inboxes about “making it” were more and more cries for help from people who weren’t making it in the economic sense. A typical post might be: I have children and a baby and I lost my job. The electricity has been turned off and I really need hot water. Should I tamper with the electricity to get it back on? Another posting stated that a family had recently lost their stove due to a small fire, and had nothing to cook with. Was anyone getting rid of a stove?
This Christmas she is assisting needy families by collecting food and gas vouchers, and other things they need to just get from one day to the next.
“People are always inboxing me throughout the year,” she said, “either they have stuff to give away or are looking for stuff. Last Christmas I said, ‘let me use my reach in a positive way to help people’. I did an appeal for grocery vouchers. I ended up getting over $2,000 worth of food vouchers. I distributed them within a couple of days. Throughout the year I do it for clothes and appliances. Anything people want to give away, I can try to link with someone who needs it.”
This Christmas she said most requests have been for food vouchers.
“No one has asked for material things,” she said. “People are mainly asking for groceries. I have everything from a widow to single mothers. I even had a married couple where one partner was not working and the other just wasn’t bringing in much money. They had three children to support. People aren’t asking for clothes. They are just asking to eat.”
Unfortunately, with the economy being what it is, and the distractions of the recent election, donations have been done significantly since last year.
“I am thankful to those who have come forth,” she said. “The people who will be recipients will be grateful.”
She said last year she felt almost overwhelmed emotionally by the need in the community.
“People just kept asking and asking and asking for help,” she said. “The breakdown came, when I realised that so many people were having a hard time providing the basics. That hurt me. I am not rich in any way so it is not like I could help them a great amount. It was overwhelming. At one point I had to shut down. It was down to a family that needed a Christmas tree. I was able to get that for them. I was thinking, here I am as a single mother of three. It really made me realise how lucky I was to be able to provide for my children. It was very humbling.”
In some cases she directs people to charities that can help them, but she finds that many people are proud. They feel comfortable inboxing her because she fiercely guards their anonymity.
Ms Zuill is now in the process of looking at starting an official registered foundation or charity.
“This would help with accountability purposes as well so that every donation is accounted for,” she said. “I keep a database so there is always checks and balances. Someone asked me how I knew that the people I help are actually in need. I don’t think that people would lie about needing but there are some who will take advantage. That is with anything when you are doing something charitable. I have been asking people this year to recommend someone in need, as opposed to just taking requests from people in need.”
If you would like to help Ms Zuill, she prefers to accept food or gas vouchers rather than cash. She will still be accepting the vouchers after Christmas as people are need beyond the holiday season.
“To me as long as it gets to the proper hands, I am thankful,” she said.
Ms Zuill runs her own business advising people on how to use social media and networking sites to enhance their businesses and projects.
Contact her on Facebook under Carla Saunders Zuill, e-mail her at Carla@gosocial.bda.com or see her on Twitter under Carla Zuill.