Walking back and forth from his apartment to classes at Yale University, Leon Noel often sees the same homeless man begging passersby for change. Over time, Noel befriended the individual who goes by the name Junior, chatting about everything from stories in the news to life. But instead of giving the man-in-need change, the 20-year-old would offer him something from his lunch bag, or buy him a cup of coffee or a sandwich.
"I stop. I care. That was definitely something that was instilled in me when I was younger," the biological anthropology major said of growing up at 12th and Wolf streets.
Helping those in need prompted the junior to create www.listfullofhope.com, a community service project aimed at connecting people. It debuted Nov. 9 in Yale’s home base of New Haven, Conn., and launched in Philadelphia about three weeks ago. The one-of-a-kind site deals in the tangible, as well as the non-tangible, with everything from clothing and furniture to help with legal issues and daycare.
"This is a place where your community grows and you get connected with your neighbors and you come to understand the wants and needs of your neighbors," Noel said.
The Young Man’s seeds of altruism were sown locally and at a young age.
"My mother, my grandparents — they were the people who whenever you were walking down Broad Street and begging for change, they would say, ‘How about a cup of coffee, a sandwich?’ They were never people who walked by. Growing up in that environment reflects upon you as a person," he said.
While attending Epiphany of Our Lord Church and grade school, 13th and Jackson streets, Noel was involved in charitable efforts, often hosting canned good and coat drives for the needy. At George Washington Carver School of Engineering and Science in North Philly, the teen became involved in the Beta Club, which engaged in community service projects throughout the city.
"You name it we did it. That spanned from South Philly to North Philly," he said.
The New Haven Web site was born out of his personal dealings with the homeless man he befriended coupled with frequent outings on craigslist.org, where he found people posting for things they needed. One was a woman asking for a winter coat. Before Noel could locate one, people had already written in and come to her rescue. It got him thinking and he began scouring the Web in search of sites devoted solely to this concept.
"I figured it had to be done already. I searched online for three, four days straight and it really shocked me that there was nothing. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before," he said.
So a List Full of Hope was born and in its first month logged more than 100,000 hits. The founder remembers the first person he helped through the site, a man named Bill who lost his job and needed food and a winter jacket.
"When you actually get to see somebody from your own community who needs something that much, it really changes you. It makes you want to keep doing it again and again," he said of the outpouring of help for the man.
But that wasn’t the best part, according to Noel.
Two days after Bill got his help, he answered a woman’s plea for Christmas toys for her kids.
"His aunt had toys laying around the house from her nieces and nephews not being used," Noel said of Bill’s giving back. "So it’s realizing that everyone in the community has some type of human capitol that can be deferred or given to somebody else. Everybody has something they can give."
Now the New Haven site averages anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hits a day and there are about 350 posts plus dozens of thank-yous from those who have benefitted.
Impressed with the site’s success, Noel decided to bring it to his hometown. At press time, there were 66 posts and five thank-yous on the Philadelphia link of www.listfullofhope.com.
Posted Dec. 12, one woman from South Philly wrote, "I am hoping to find a baby dresser/changing table. I just purchased a light oak crib from a thrift shop and am trying to get my baby room ready. I am due in March. Thanks. Happy Holidays!!"
Another local post from Dec. 16 involved someone offering computer repair: "I can help you if your computer runs funny. If it’s really slow — or virus-infested, or if you just want some computer advice. Traveling is an issue. If you’re within distance, or want to drop it off while I look at it, that’s cool too."
Both sites operate by word-of-mouth.
"That’s it. I’m a college student I don’t have money for advertising," Noel said with a laugh.
The site has received coverage in Yale’s newspaper, as well as other New Haven papers, bringing it to the attention of Yale undergraduates and alumni who have expressed an outpouring of support. San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan are the places where Noel plans to expand next before hopefully going national.
"It’s overwhelming to see how easy it is for somebody to help somebody else and see how willing they are willing to help," he said.
Contact Staff Writer Lorraine Gennaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.