Jenny McCutcheon of EXconsumerThis is part of a weekly series of interviews with Starfishers. Starfishers are amazing people who are making a difference in a community or in the world. To read more about Starfishers and Operation Starfish, click here. The purpose of this is to inspire us to begin projects of our own. I believe that many of us have that “If only we had this, we could do help/save that…” feeling but aren’t sure where to start. I thought a good way to inspire others would be to have those that have done it share their stories.

This week’s interview is with Jenny McCutcheon of EXconsumer.

  1. Please tell us about your project, when you started it, and how it has made a difference for others.

    My project was a one-time tent drive for the homeless in downtown Columbus, OH during the fall of 2004. The Open Shelter in downtown Columbus that usually housed many of our homeless was shut down due to low funding, which sent hundreds of men, women and children out on the streets. When I heard about this, I reached out to the Mission Committee at the church my family had recently joined to see if they would be interested in helping me organize a tent drive for those that would be without shelter going into the colder months. My request was met with an outpouring of support.

    In addition to collecting close to two-dozen tents, we collected numerous coats, sleeping bags, candles, blankets and warm clothing to donate.

  2. What inspired you to create change in this area?

    When I heard that the Open Shelter had been closed down, I couldn’t get the thought of those people that had counted on the shelter for protection in times of need being pushed out onto the streets. I thought long and hard about what I would want if I were in their position, and decided I would want a tent more than anything else. A tent would be the easiest way to provide shelter from the elements, and provide some personal space.

  3. What does it mean for you, personally, to inspire change in this area?

    At the time, I felt I was in a position to do something about some of the suffering I was aware of. I had access to a wonderful community of people eager to help and I felt that organizing the project was the right thing to do.

  4. I think that many of us get inspired at one time or another to make a change somewhere, but a lot of us never do anything about it. Once you had the inspiration, how did you get started? What was the first step you took?

    Once I got inspired, I showed to up to a Mission Committee meeting at my church. When the committee chair asked if anyone had any new ideas, I spoke out about mine. The committee agreed to help me, as long as I spearheaded the effort.

  5. Did you research to see if any other foundations or people were addressing these issues?

    Yes. That was my first step. I found out that volunteers that worked at the Open Shelter were providing outreach to the homeless that were pushed out when the shelter closed. It was with the outreach volunteers that I organized the bi-weekly drop-off of donations we received from the congregation.

  6. What is your background? What did you do full time before this project?

    Directly before starting this project I was a small business owner of a little ice cream shop. Before that I was a Risk Analyst for a large corporation.

  7. What were your fears starting out and how did you get over them?

    My biggest fear was that we wouldn’t receive any tents or other donations. I thought, what if I call these outreach volunteers and promise all of these tents and supplies and then the congregation doesn’t deliver any donations. Thankfully, this was far from what actually happened. People were so generous and eager to help that I had a hard time organizing all of the trips to get the donations to the outreach volunteers!

  8. How did you acquire your first donations and how difficult was it?

    Because I organized this project through a church, all of the donations were received from the congregation. It was really as easy as including the request for donations in the church bulletin and asking the pastor to mention the project in his sermons.

  9. How much of your time does this project take?

    It took about 15 hours each week. There was a lot of coordinating I was in charge of between my church and the outreach volunteers. Plus it took a lot of time to organize helpers to drive the donations downtown (tents are pretty big!).

  10. Were there times you thought to yourself “What am I doing?” Did you have second thoughts? If so, what kept you going?

    Absolutely. At the time when I organized this project, my oldest son was less than a year old. I couldn’t fit him in the car with all of the supplies I was driving downtown, so I had to arrange for a sitter each time I took a trip downtown.

  11. At what point did you realize that your project was actually taking off?

    When I made that first trip downtown with two other Mission Committee members to deliver a conversion van and SUV full of tents, coats, sleeping bags, candles, and warm clothes. The look of relief and gratitude on the outreach volunteers faces said it all.

  12. How many people have you inspired to help (not just monetarily) in your mission?

    I suppose the Mission Committee members, and then members of the congregation.

  13. Have you gotten to see first-hand the results of your efforts (the reactions of the people you have helped, etc?) If yes, how was that for you the first time? Describe how you felt.

    I didn’t see the donations delivered to the homeless, but I did see the reaction of the outreach workers that visited the homeless individuals each day. As I mentioned in question 11 above, the appreciation the outreach volunteers expressed was overwhelming. I felt as though I really made a difference in the lives of those that were without homes that winter.

  14. Do you have plans to create other projects?

    I find my time pretty pinched right now with two kids and a full-time job, but I’m working to create more space and time in my life so that I can continue this kind of work

  15. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    Organizing this project was an incredibly fulfilling experience. I had an idea (to provide tents to those without homes) and by sharing my idea I discovered that this wasn’t something anyone in the area had considered before. It was great to know that a creative flash coming out of my mind was able to help others – just because I decided to take action.

    If you ever have the chance to complete a project like this for a cause that you care about, I would highly recommend it!

Jenny’s project to help the homeless in her hometown is an excellent example of a project we can all start with at home. Look around you and see what needs change in your own town and see what you can start to inspire change in that area.

Jenny McCutcheon is a full time web designer and mom and by the amount of posts she writes each week, almost a full time blogger! She blogs at EXconsumer about consumerism, minimalism, saving money and getting out of debt. Definitely check out her blog today!

If you have any further questions for Jenny, please ask them in the comments. And please share this story to inspire others to create change. The links are located just below this sentence!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

22 Responses

  1. […] today I’m being profiled by Marianne over at A Life Set Free for a charity project I organized in Columbus awhile back. Please hop over and check it out if you […]

  2. Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

    Thank you so much for profiling me as part of your awesome project Marianne! I had a lot of fun completing your questionnaire. 🙂

  3. Hi Jenny,
    So nice to see you here as a Starfisher 🙂

    It is wonderful that you were able to see a need and then inspire others to help you fill it. I wish we all lived our lives like that because the choices we make have far reaching impacts to the people around us.

    I just finished reading some quotes by William Arthur Ward and I want to share this one:

    “The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”
    — William Arthur Ward

    • Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

      Hi David! What a lovely quote. Although, I still like your quote from your free E-Book, Finding Greatness, better. 😉

      Hopefully I made a difference, even if it was a one-time event. I’m really looking forward to doing more of this kind of work in the future.

  4. David, that’s a great quote, I’ll be adding that to my list of favorites!

    Jenny, it’s my pleasure to have you on here! 🙂

    • Hi Marianney

      Your Starfisher interviews are going well so far- it’s good to be reading about people making a difference

      • sorry about the bad spelling …. Marianne 🙂

        • marianney on 05 Apr 2011

          oh no worries David! they are interchangeable and i go by both 😉

  5. Gena on 04 Apr 2011

    What a fantastic project, that really intrigues me because we’re interested in an outreach project that provides tents to victims of natural disasters, such as those in Japan, or in Christchurch, NZ I can only imagine the amazement and gratitude of those that received the tents and supplies, just a great opportunity to put hands and feet to motion for touching lives in the real world!

    • Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

      Hi Gena! I love your idea for collecting tents and supplies for outreach to those involved in a natural disaster. Really, a tent is an inexpensive and portable way to provide shelter. I’m sure those that received one would be thrilled. I know I would be.

      • Stay tuned for Gena’s guest post on Weds on that very topic. There’s a reason I decided to put your posts together in the same week! 😉

        I think that tents for natural disaster relief is awesome. it’s cheap and quick and such a godsend for people who have no shelter.

        • Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

          Ohhh. I can’t wait to read about Gena’s project! 🙂

  6. Jo@simplybeingmum on 04 Apr 2011

    Fantastic project Jenny. What can you give greater than a roof (even fabric) over someones head who has been sleeping rough. It’s such a basic need. By sharing your idea and take action you made a difference, and who knows what the legacy of that project was – how long-term that will have positively impacted on the beneficiaries? Fantastic! Jo

    • Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

      Thanks Jo! Even though it was my idea, I couldn’t have done it without the church supporting my idea and reaching out to the congregation for donations. Hopefully it provided some comfort and warmth to people. 😉

  7. jenny smythe on 04 Apr 2011

    AMAZING! And sooooo clever! You truly have the heart of gold!

    • She makes it sound so easy doesn’t she?? My mind is buzzing with ideas for projects I can do here.

      • Jenny @ exconsumer on 04 Apr 2011

        Thanks Jenny. 🙂

        The idea was easy Marianne. It was just carting the tents and supplies downtown in my sedan that was tricky!

  8. It’s a great story, Jenny. Providing direct assistance to people who need it is a great way to make a difference. This is also one of the ways churches can be really valuable in society. They have the organizational structure to make things like this happen. It’s a shame more of them don’t.


    • Jenny @ exconsumer on 05 Apr 2011

      Hello Gip. 🙂

      You’re so right. If it weren’t for the support and group of others willing to help from the church, this project would have turned out much differently, I’m sure.

  9. […] week I had the pleasure of taking part in Marianne’s Starfisher series over at A Life Set Free. It was so much fun! If you haven’t had a chance to see the amazing project she’s […]

  10. […] my second Starfisher interview by Jenny at […]