Pre-health partnership leads to drive benefitting Waco’s homeless population

Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer

Upon volunteering and witnessing the effects of homelessness on the Waco community, San Antonio junior Aleena Huerta decided she wanted to use her role at Baylor to make a difference.

Huerta’s idea led to a campuswide blanket and jacket drive, organized through a partnership between Baylor’s Multicultural Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS), American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and Latino Pre-Health Student Association (LPHSA). Huerta serves as the pre-dental chair for LPHSA.

The drive accepts blankets and jackets for donation and lasts until Friday, with the groups distributing the donations at Street Ministries’ Thanksgiving meal to benefit Waco’s homeless population. The easiest way to donate is to reach out to Huerta, Grimes, Iowa junior Therese Riesberg or Austin junior Betty Mekonnen via Baylor email to set up a dropoff time.

Huerta’s inspiration for the drive came when she realized the difficulty that results from being homeless during times of particularly cold weather.

“The idea for the drive came about a few weeks ago during my shift at the Meyer Center homeless shelter,” Huerta said. “A cold front had come in, and it was 35 to 40 degrees and rainy for several days. Multiple people had come into the shelter freezing cold, asking for any type of jacket or blanket to keep them warm, and most of them had been outside all day and even slept in that weather with nothing. Having to turn people away and not having anything to give was a terrible feeling. After this experience, I went to Walmart and bought as many blankets, hand warmers, socks and gloves as I could and drove around Waco handing them out.”

Huerta appreciates the opportunity to reach out to the homeless population in Waco and hopes the drive will make a difference in people’s lives.

“Before I went home for fall break, I posted in my community Facebook page asking if anyone had any items that they’d be willing to donate, used or unused, and came home from break with 60 blankets and 30 jackets,” Huerta said. “At this point it was a lot to hand out on my own so I contacted my friends who also have leadership roles in pre-health organizations and together we put together the drive.”

Riesberg serves as vice president of AMWA and hopes the drive causes students to reflect on the role of homelessness in the Waco community and how they can best help.

“I hope Baylor students realize how much of an impact this drive will make on the homeless population of Waco,” Riesberg said. “Since it’s such a prominent population and the weather is starting to get colder, there’s more of a need than ever for a cause like this, and I hope people are able to see the difference they have the opportunity to make. Homeless people are presented with all kinds of difficulties each and every day, and it’s only amplified when it’s cold outside and they don’t have the means to stay warm.”

Houston senior Giana Rodriguez serves as the founder and president of LPHSA and is glad the drive provided an opportunity for three pre-health groups on campus to partner up and make a difference in the community.

“All these groups came together because of Aleena [Huerta] reaching out and wanting this to be as successful as possible,” Rodriguez said. “It was easy to say yes and come together for this great cause. I hope this becomes a tradition and that Baylor students continue to give with generosity and love.”

Rodriguez said this year is LPHSA’s first as a charted campus organization, but the group already has over 100 members and hopes to provide academic opportunities for those involved, as well as a sense of diversity and the ability to form relationships through social events.

“We mix medicine and Latino culture together by educating our students on how we can better help our Latino community once we’re practicing professionals and today as undergraduate students,” Rodriguez said. “We do service at Carnet Clinic, Fuzzy Friends, and have opportunities to shadow surgeries, doctors and go to elderly homes. We want to impact our Waco community and help it form us into better people and future professionals in medicine.”

Rodriguez hopes LPHSA continues to grow in the future and mentioned how more events and activities are planned for the upcoming semester. She said a good way to stay up to date with the group is to follow @lphsabaylor on social media.

“Next semester, starting in January, we’ll be starting a huge fundraiser for used shoes that people don’t want anymore — our goal is to fill 100 bags with 25 pairs of shoes in each, and I definitely think we can do it,” Rodriguez said. “We’re also working on planning a dance-a-thon, a professor and student mixer and more, so definitely keep an eye out for us.”

AMWA promotes equality in the pre-health field through various group events, and Riesberg said she hopes students will look out for an upcoming event for awareness for sexual abuse.

“We’re a group of pre-health women and men geared toward promoting gender equality in the healthcare field, as well as empowering each other to reach our goals,” Riesberg said. “Look out for our big #MeToo event next semester — it’s next semester’s biggest meeting, and it’s all about awareness of sexual assault and abuse. Survivors will tell their stories, the counseling center will be there for support, and we’ll talk about this as an issue that needs attention.”

Huerta sees the partnership of MAPS, AMWA and LPHSA as a positive step for the pre-health groups and hopes Baylor students take the time to offer a donation and consider how they can help end homelessness in Waco.

“The homeless population seems to get overlooked a lot, but they are truly grateful for anything given to them, and I’ve met so many great people while working at the shelter,” Huerta said. “I hope the drive encourages Baylor students to spend some time focusing on giving to the homeless population here.”