Helping Women in Need
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Married with two daughters
About two years ago, Matt started feeling unsettled. Every morning, he would pore over the (depressing) news of the day and feel despondent about the world his children would inherit. “What made matters worse was that I wasn’t doing anything to make a difference,” Matt says. “I realized that if I thought ‘doing unto others’ was an important lesson to teach my kids, I needed to act on it.”
Philanthropy was out; Matt makes only a modest salary at his job as a PR specialist at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, and his wife, Julia, stays home with Nora, 3, and Fiona, 1. “I knew a food bank or a shelter could use assistance,” he says, “but I wanted to do more than walk in holding one can of soup.”
Then, rocking Fiona to sleep one night, Matt hit on an idea. Instead of making a tiny donation by himself (see “can of soup”), he could organize a group of people to each donate a small number of goods to one charity. He named his fledgling organization the First Step Project.
“The first step is doing something,” Matt says. “[Tennis great] Arthur Ashe once said, ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ I took that as good advice.”
Matt soon learned about Interact of Wake County, North Carolina, a nonprofit agency that gives shelter to victims of domestic violence and rape. “The people I love most are women―my wife, my mom, my daughters,” he says. “I wanted to make the world safer for them.”
In January 2009, Matt asked Interact for a list of items the women were lacking. He e-mailed it to 40 colleagues on his campus, asking people to contact him when they had something to give. Soon he was inundated with responses.
Over the next few weeks, Matt drove around and picked up donations. Individually, some of the offerings―11 pencils, seven disposable razors―might have seemed insignificant; together, they added up to $350 worth of goods. Every month since, Matt has collected as much as $400 worth of supplies and hand delivered them to the shelter.
“The first trip to Interact, I got a polite thank-you,” Matt says. “The second trip raised eyebrows. The third time in, someone applauded me. And as I brought in the fourth armload of boxes, one woman started crying. This isn’t stuff these women want. It’s stuff they need.”
“Many people will drop off items around the holidays,” says Mandy Rucker, a crisis counselor at Interact. “That’s wonderful. But when Matt continues to bring gifts every month―and of such essential items, like tampons and toilet paper―we know it’s from the heart.”
Matt says, "I hope from watching me my girls will learn how rewarding it is to give back. That is, once they're old enough to think about anything besides dinosaurs."