As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in early 2020, California Baptist University gave issued a work-from-home order. Having to work from home and with fewer sports games going on, Zack LaGuardia, director of ticketing and sales of CBU athletics, had more time on his hands to help the community.
LaGuardia started a non profit called Kits with Kindness. The charity’s main action is distributing amenity kits of daily essentials to the homeless community.
Due to COVID-19 creating monetary issues for some individuals, LaGuardia began getting groceries for older people who are not able to do so. After a few weeks of helping around 10 older people, he thought he wanted to create an impact in a different capacity.
Having been in Riverside for four years, LaGuardia saw how the homeless population had grown. He said with the COVID-19 pandemic the numbers will most likely not go down.
“The need for a helping hand in that disenfranchised group of people is greater than ever,” LaGuardia said.
He said his original thought was that summer was approaching and, knowing the temperature could rise to 100 degrees in Riverside, he wanted to distribute sunscreen to the homeless community to prevent sunburns.
“My idea was to go to the 99 cent store and buy 50 bottles of sunscreen and hand those out to the homeless of the community,” LaGuardia said. “But when I got to the store I started seeing soap, toothbrushes and other amenities that I knew I take for granted but would make an impact to the homeless that do not have access to them.”
After the trip to the store, LaGuardia ended up with around $200 worth of items that he packed into kits and distributed throughout Riverside.
About 10 days later, as LaGuardia was driving on the side of the 91 freeway, he saw one of the men that he had given a kit to still going into his kit and using the items in it for his daily needs.
“At that moment I realized that these simple items that I, for one, take for granted can make a profound difference on these people’s lives,” LaGuardia said.
LaGuardia then told this story in community Facebook groups. From there he received messages from people who were interested in getting involved.
“It then sort of took a life on of its own,” LaGuardia said. “At that point, I was just thinking of it as a one-time thing, but there was so much interest for the homeless population and before I knew it turned into me and 20 people.”
Now, after nearly eight to nine months, Kits with Kindness has over 500 people involved.
Kits with Kindness has expanded to helping not only the homeless but also their pets. They packaged 20-—to—30 pet kits every month with food, bowls, toys and treats, and this month they distributed sweaters to dogs.
Kits with Kindness also started distributing feminine product kits.
“That came as a suggestion from our group members because as a male, I was not thinking of feminine needs,” LaGuardia said. “A lot of the time, the items that went into these kits came from the suggestion of the group members.”
LaGuardia said Kits with Kindness managed to attract people who were previously homeless or have family members who are homeless. Donations aside, those involved gave LaGuardia suggestions on what to pack in the kits.
These suggestions helped LaGuardia improve the impact that he made on the community in Riverside and surrounding cities.
“We want to give them value and make them understand that they do hold worth,” LaGuardia said. “The mission is to inspire hope, to spread kindness and to restore dignity to the people that have been often overlooked.”
LaGuardia said the goal of Kits with Kindness is not to get people off the streets but to give them hope.