Amanda Hendryx was 12 when she saw a homeless person for the first time, and the revelation stunned her.
“I saw a man pushing all his belongings in a grocery cart,” she says. “It really hit me.”
Hendryx is 17 now but has never forgotten the homeless man she saw that day on the streets of Reno, Nev. At the beginning of her junior year in high school, when she learned that there are thousands of homeless people in her state alone, she began what she called “Share the Warmth”—a campaign to collect warm clothes for people living on the streets of Reno.
Hendryx posted flyers around her town in the fall, reminding folks that it was getting colder outside and that the missions in Reno might not have enough room for everyone needing shelter. If homeless people didn’t have warm clothes, the flyer said, they might die of the cold. Hendryx asked people to drop clothes at her house, promising to dry-clean and deliver them to one of Reno’s missions.
Next, she set up a Share the Warmth collection box at her high school and put announcements in the school bulletin to inspire classmates to donate clothes.
“The typical homeless person in America is a child,” says Hendryx. “Over 40 percent of homeless children have been homeless more than once. Over half of homeless children have never lived in their own home.”
At first, Hendryx’s fellow students were unresponsive. “They thought I was just being a goodie-goodie, trying to get people to pay attention to me,” she says. But eventually they warmed up to the idea, some of them even donating their own clothes.
To help pay Share the Warmth’s dry cleaning and transportation expenses, Hendryx organized a fund-raising skating party at the town’s community center. More than 100 youngsters came.
Over time, community members began to recognize the importance of Hendryx’s efforts and stepped up to help her. When the Tonapah Livestock Association was getting ready to disband, they donated the $425 left in their bank account to Share the Warmth. Then, in May 2000, Hendryx received $1,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where she was honored with a Prudential Spirit of Community Award—one of two awarded annually to teens in Nevada.
The amazing thing is that Hendryx’s home was some 160 miles from Reno, and there are no homeless people in her former town of Round Mountain (pop. 1,131).
On one trip, they stopped by the truck scales at the mine where her father worked and discovered they were hauling 1,500 pounds of clothes.
That’s a lot to clean and deliver, so Hendryx works several part-time jobs to keep Share the Warmth going. For two summers she worked on a hay ranch, moving irrigation pipes, raking hay, and taking care of horses, cows, and dogs.
“Most people I know were shocked because they thought what I was doing was guys’ work,” she says. “I got dirty. It was a tough job. But I enjoyed it.”
Hendryx’s father works as a mine blast-hole driller and has recently taken work in Wyoming, where the family has relocated.
This September, Hendryx enrolled as a freshman at Eastern Wyoming College to major in animal science—but the warm torch will be passed. Her 13-year-old sister, Elyse, said she intends to perpetuate Share the Warmth while Hendryx is away at college.