Features

Wren Fialka learned the power of interconnectedness as a young girl when her mother started a gardening program in one of Washington, D.C.’s poorest areas.

“The homeless people I met there touched my heart,” she says. “They had a certain type of courage, kindness, and authenticity. I wanted to ensure they were treated with respect.” These early lessons inspired a passion project that now helps communities across the nation.

Launched by Fialka in Jackson four years ago, Spread the Love Commission is a grassroots outreach program turned nonprofit organization that touches the lives of people who are homeless and displaced. Fialka says last year the organization distributed $45,000 worth of supplies and services to people in communities ranging from Wyoming to Florida.

Spread the Love collects and distributes gloves, socks, sleeping bags, mats, backpacks,toiletries, first aid supplies, and more to people in need. One frequent distribution location is Salt Lake City, where the need is significant and homelessness is often criminalized.

“The key is just being there and hearing people’s stories,” Fialka says. “We make it personal and create a heart connection, so people feel like they are no longer strangers.”

At one distribution event in Miami, a middle-aged, tattooed man approached Fialka. “He was really hungry, staring at a can of peaches in his hand,” she says. “He had prayed all night for a can opener, and I had one to give him. It was a joyful moment for both of us.”

Spread the Love has completed 28 distributions in 10 cities and communities, serving 100 to 500 individuals per weekend.

“We want to grow from Jackson outward,” Fialka says. “By 2020, we hope for 16 distributions annually in Billings, Boise, the Wind River Reservation, Denver, and Salt Lake City.”

Distributions are not the only way Spread the Love serves those in need. The commission has helped two local families renovate homes through volunteer labor.

“Homelessness can seem like a daunting, complex issue, but essentially, it’s a basic one,” Fialka says. “Our society has forgotten to act like a human family. It’s as easy as handing a person on the street a warm pair of socks. Most of the time you get to see people’s humanity in a way you never expected.”