Help the homeless and back the Unum Project
It was exactly a year ago that Duane Saunders took to the streets of Swansea looking to make a difference.
Born and bred in Swansea, the 31-year-old Gower College sports science lecturer would walk the city centre streets delivering food to the homeless and spend time talking about their journey into homelessness.
“I started going out onto the streets, talking to people and buying them food,’’ explained Duane, who played professionally in America and trained with the Swans Youth team during the Roberto Martinez era. “I just felt it was something I had to do.
“You often see things on the news about people in the world needing help. But a lot of the time we dissociate those individuals with being somewhere else in the world when there is a lot of need around us.
“A lot of the need around us in our culture is invisible - things we can’t see. But the obvious ones we can, for example, are the likes of the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers. They are the ones we can see and can help.
“They’ve all got their own unique story. When you speak to them you tend to take away more than you’ve given them. That’s one of the reasons I find it so rewarding.
“A lot mentioned they were struggling for warm clothing, so I placed an appeal on Facebook and from there people just wanted to help. They wanted to do a bit more, but didn’t know how to help.’’
And it was from those early chats in the depths of winter that the Unum Project was born – a cause Swansea City Football Club has agreed to support this Christmas and beyond.
Duane takes up the story of Unum, which is Latin for one, adding: “It became clear to me that the people I talked to on the streets just didn’t have the essentials. If they were given money they would obviously use it to buy food, but they wouldn’t necessarily have enough for essentials such as thermals, socks, underwear, gloves, hats and toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrush, wet wipes, hairbrush, shower gel, sanitary products and wet wipes.
“I felt that if we could try and alleviate the problem then it would make a massive difference to their day-to-day lives.’’
And that’s when Duane came up with the idea of the Unum Street Box; a simple shoe size box that people can fill with essentials, drop off at key points and delivered by the Unum Project volunteers to those on the streets. There’s even a special message card inside where people can leave a note to the recipient.
“The Street Box ties people to a cause. People buy into something when they feel they are part of it,’’ added Duane. “I’ve seen homeless people throw away the wrapping from the products inside the box, yet keep the card with the message on. It’s personal; it means something to them. They are not alone.’’
The project has already started to take off with 330 boxes filled with essentials and 150 delivered to those in need.
Remarkably, up until now Duane has been paying for the boxes himself at £1.50 a time, and delivering them in the evenings after work.
The Swans have agreed to cover the costs going forward and support the Unum Project as much as they can. But now we will need the support of Swans fans to make a real difference.
The Street Boxes are available now from reception at the Liberty Stadium and our club shops at the Liberty and in the city centre. They are also available from Subway in Morriston and Gorseinon, plus the Living Room Letting Agency on Walters Road.
Once filled, they can be dropped off at the same venues - although the project is also looking for more collection and drop off points in the area - before being delivered onto the streets of Swansea and the surrounding areas.
The Unum Project will also be hosting pop up shops where clothing donations can be made.