Arcadia newcomer Alyssa Duchesne, who has spent a good portion of her life moving from place to place – namely Canada, San Francisco, Coronado and now, Arcadia – decided that last year, the holidays were going to be about more than spending time with family.

The 19-year-old started a GoFundMe campaign during the Christmas holiday to provide care packages to the homeless in the area.

“It’s no secret this past year has been one of the most tumultuous times in modern history,” Duchesne said. “The homeless population of our country has been labeled as one of the most vulnerable populations in the pandemic. My mission stemmed not only from the heartbreak of the year but also the notion that those on the streets are the forgotten ones of this pandemic.”

Duchesne is currently a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She’s studying international relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and political communication.

She kicked off her campaign by researching what kind of people need the most help during the holidays. She read an article on the homeless populations’ limited resources, since some shelters and kitchens sustaining these communities were closed during the pandemic.

“I also know the reality of being lucky enough to sleep in a shelter is low, and there are many who do not get the opportunity,” Duchesne said.

Instead of dropping off packages at local shelters, she searched for people on the streets that had difficulty staying at these places because of mental health issues or other reasons.

“I would say one of the hardest parts about this was spotting the people and then pulling over or crossing busy streets or hopping out at red lights to get to these people,” Duchesne said.

She started her GoFundMe campaign with a realistic goal she thought she could reach. “I know 2020 was difficult for everyone and understood that donating to others might not be in the cards, so I kept that in mind, not expecting much,” she said.

Duchesne started at $500 and ended up at over $900. She explained that the donations came from various places.

“The beauty of constant relocation is all the people I’ve been able to meet within my communities. These contributions have come from lifelong family friends to unknown people,” she said. They came from former high school teachers, folks from the Canadian town she’s from and strangers in her new neighborhood. “I was shocked at all the people willing to help. Grateful is an understatement.”

Once she raised the money, Duchesne enlisted her parents’ help to make grocery runs for supplies. The care packages included blankets, soap, deodorant, first aid kits, feminine hygiene products, tissues, mouthwash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, snacks, water and gift cards to nearby food places.

She also included masks, hand sanitizers and other sanitary protections – and some dog food to hand out for those with pets.

Duchesne said the reactions from people who received the care packages ranged from elation and disbelief to confusion and surprise.

“It was a complete array of emotions which showed me all the kinds of people living on the street,” she said. “Some said this was their first year on the streets, some had families or animals, and some said they’ve been without a home for so long it was the first time someone truly ‘saw’ them. It was apparent they were thankful. That leaves an impact on you like nothing else.”

Volunteering and service projects have always been something that Duchesne wanted to partake in. She volunteered to coach a youth girls’ volleyball team in high school and joined local political campaigns and beach cleanups.

“I think it’s too often we underestimate the worth of a helping hand, random acts of kindness, or a listening ear. Small acts of caring for the community have the potential to change lives and mold a future we can be prouder of. I am grateful for those who donated to my service as they also volunteered for their community. I hope people know how much of an impact they can make.”