TORRINGTON – An idea that sprouted during a brainstorming session between family members just a few short months ago has quickly become a nationwide movement – and it only continues to grow.
Last year, Lingle resident Shelly Duncan was shocked to discover, at any one time, between 20 and 40 Goshen County youth are considered homeless. As current president of the Wyoming Association of Realtors, she decided to make this cause her platform.
“I was just astounded,” she said of the statistic. “I thought, this is something that needs to be addressed. We need to talk about it.”
Duncan’s daughter-in-law Patty sells 31 brand bags and expressed a desire to hold a fundraiser. The two began brainstorming and, by November, Totes for Hope was born.
“We thought, you know, if you are a homeless teen and you have to figure out where you’re going to sleep from night to night, the hardest thing is how are you going to ask for toiletries?” Duncan said.
The Duncan women created a list, which eventually evolved to include shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, local resources guide, sunscreen, words of encouragement, comb/brush, first aid kit, gloves, gum, mints, hat, hand lotion, snacks, socks/thermal socks, and a gift card (for underwear and feminine hygiene products).
Patty made the decision to donate 100 percent of her 31 bag sales commission to purchase totes, while Shelly got to work raising awareness for the project.
“We wanted 20 bags, we put it out there and we got enough donations for 70 bags,” she said. “I pulled aside 30 totes to donate to Goshen County.”
Duncan planned to donate the bags to GoshenHELP, a local resource for those who need a hand.
“GoshenHELP is kind of like a gatekeeper here,” Duncan said. “Anyone can come to GoshenHELP and they can coordinate all the other services. Their idea is to help eradicate poverty, to catch it and stop it before homelessness starts.
“The totes were an idea of, let’s get these totes filled and let’s donate them to GoshenHELP … or to school counselors, school nurses, (the department of family services), and just help the community start learning and have an awareness so they know these kids need help and give them some hope.”
Duncan donated her first tote to an 18-year-old male who had fostered out of the system. Through the donation, she learned he did not have a place to live.
“A local church adopted him and they are providing housing for him until he graduates,” she said. “More recently, we had a family that was on their way to becoming homeless and we (again) found out about it through reaching out through the totes. We donated four totes to their teenage kids and we were able to find them affordable housing, and they are now going through a budget program and learning how to budget their funds.”
Since January, when Duncan officially launched her project in Goshen County, she has donated eight totes.
“I started talking about Goshen County homeless numbers as I traveled across the state (as part of my presidency), and I’ve been donating five (empty) bags to real estate boards I’ve been visiting,” Duncan said. There are 14 real estate boards in Wyoming and she often dipped into her own pocket to distribute totes.
“Every board that I go to … every single board, someone knows of several kids that fit the criteria of being homeless,” she said. “People think that just because they’re not sleeping on the streets they’re not homeless, but it’s a hidden homelessness … the state homeless census for this year found there are 1,700 homeless youth in Wyoming, so there is a problem.”
Duncan discussed her project with Arizona’s president of realtors Paula Monfother, and the pair decided to challenge their state’s real estate boards to donate funds for totes to use with each state’s logo, as well as toiletries.
“As I got encouragement from a neighboring state, (the project) went from local to state, and now I will pass out the yellow (state logo) bags to all of the realtors who participate in the National Association of Realtors meeting,” Duncan said. “I will give each participant a yellow bag, and they’re encouraged to put their unused toiletries and any other donated items inside. We then make a connection with a shelter in the city we’re at.”
Duncan also reached out to other members of Region 11, including Colorado, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico in addition to Arizona and Wyoming, and asked realtors to make their own state totes and join together to
“I was chosen to present Totes for Hope at the President/President Elect Idea Exchange – and they only pick three to five ideas out of 120 – while I’m at the National Association of Realtors legislative meeting in Washington, D.C. next week,” Duncan said. “I’m inviting all of the presidents there to participate in Totes for Hope in November at the annual real estate conference in Chicago. There will be 20,000 realtors there, and I’m encouraging it to become a day of giving in Chicago – that’s what I’m hoping.”
While the charity is touching lives across America, support for the project in Wyoming continues to grow, according to Duncan.
“Our state office has had to get a 501 (c) set up because of the outpouring of donations,” she said. “Now we have people wanting our (Wyoming) totes, so they’re donating, buying boxes of hygiene items on Amazon, just so they can have one of our totes. It’s become crazy, but it’s a good crazy – and it all started from
With local banks and other businesses and community members embracing the project – for example, Platte Valley Banks across Wyoming have made May ‘Totes for Hope’ month – Duncan said the project truly is a grassroots effort.
“I want this to be about the community,” she explained. “It’s about community participation and our community taking ownership. Everybody can afford a toothbrush, everybody can afford a bar of soap
“The compassion and the outpouring generosity is overwhelming,” Duncan said. “We just want to restore some hope, give these kids a little dignity, give them self-confidence and see what they are
For more information, or to donate, please contact Kyle Borger at GoshenHELP or Duncan at Double D Real Estate in Torrington.