A college student plans to spread some holiday cheer among the homeless population in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this year. Ali Boettlin, 21, is a senior at Temple University and has often volunteered at the Hope Rescue Mission in her hometown of Reading, PA. Her stepfather, Jim Smith, serves as the shelter’s development director.

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This year, along with handing out the usual bags of street necessities, she set the goal of making 500 Christmas cards just to bring a smile of the face of the city’s homeless. She called the project, “You’ve Got Mail.” And her hope for 500 cards was quickly surpassed with donations of 2,000 holiday cards!

“To the people that help me out, I’m just so grateful,” Boettlin said. “We often forget that people are good and this is the perfect reminder. For the people that I’m helping, I have seen the homelessness firsthand and it’s a battle. No one wakes up and chooses to be homeless. I’ve always donated the basic needs — the toiletries, the shampoos, toothbrushes. This time I’m thinking out of the box a little bit while doing something to make them smile.”

Robert Turchi, executive director at Hope said, “Ali’s compassion for others doesn’t stop at just feeling sympathy for them in their hardships, she looks for ways to alleviate the weight of those hardships through her kindness. Individuals facing homelessness certainly suffer physically, but for many, the emotional suffering is even more painful. Feeling alone and hopeless cuts deeper than feeling hungry and cold. A kind gesture, such as Ali’s encouragement card project, can be that light in someone’s day to keep them striving and hoping for a better tomorrow.”

So Ali Boettlin, along with many of her friends, will be out on the streets in the city of brotherly love this Christmas season. They will be meeting people’s physical needs with bags of personal items, but they will also be meeting people’s emotional needs. As they hand out the beautiful cards with hope-filled messages, they will also listen to the stories of the homeless.

Ali said, “The biggest thing is just to listen because everybody has a story and from that story, you can find out how to help.”