By Todd Cohen
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Two years ago, a friend suggested that Charlotta Sjoelin donate some pillows to HomeStart, a homeless shelter for women and children operated by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill.
When she dropped off 20 pillows at the shelter, Sjoelin was taken aback by the bleakness of the rooms, which had bare walls and contained little more than metal bunkbeds with mattresses, worn-out bedding and towels, and dressers.
The experience inspired Sjoelin, an interior designer, to remake a bedroom in the shelter “so it feels like a home,” she says.
She bought and donated new bedding, pillows, decorative pillows, blankets, curtains and curtain rods, rugs, side tables, towels, shower curtains, bathroom shelves, shower products, wall art, a mirror, small decorative items, and an alarm clock — all for $500.
That effort led her to launch a program to recruit other donors and volunteers to remake other rooms in the shelter.
Initially called Donate A Room, A Lotta Love operates with its own advisory board and also supports emergency and homeless shelters run by Families Moving Forward in Durham, and Haven House Services and InterAct, both in Raleigh.
Supporting its partnership with Interact is a new chapter in Wake Forest of A Lotta Love. The organization also is developing plans to partner with Urban Ministries of Durham.
An all-volunteer group, A Lotta Love has enlisted about 200 volunteers and in its first year served nearly 130 women, nearly 170 children and 300 families.
At a cost of roughly $500 per room, it has provided about $120,000 worth of makeovers, including bedrooms, living rooms, teen rooms and playrooms, plus a flower and vegetable garden, and a playground.
A Lotta Love has developed partnerships with Lowe’s, World Market, IKEA and Sherwin Williams, all of which have donated products, and with Whitsell Consulting, Cisco and Spoonflower, all of which have provided volunteers and donated funds or products.
“We provide all the information you need to donate and do your own room,” says Sjoelin. “Anyone can lend a hand and be part of their donation.”
A Lotta Love provides donors with a one-page summary of the products and materials they can donate to a room in a shelter, including a description of the family, and the gender, ages and special interests of the children.
Often fueled by poverty or domestic violence, homelessness in the region is a serious problem, Sjoelin says, and the women, children and families staying in emergency and long-term shelters typically have jobs or are enrolled in school.
“When you walk into a shelter, you’ve basically lost everything, you’ve hit rock bottom,” she says.
“We don’t talk about making it beautiful,” she says. “We talk about respect and dignity and showing them that we care, that we believe in them, and giving them a place they can stay for a longer period of time to build themselves up. We’re creating a home away from home.”