By Tina Harper, Communications & McAuley Ministries administrative assistant
Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net’s (OSN) homeless shelters are beneficiaries of a local Boy Scout’s Eagle Project. Praneel Murthy, a scout in Troop 329 of McCandless, donated 970 winter coats, 296 accessories (hats, gloves, scarves, and blankets), and $1,010 to help Pittsburgh’s homeless population during a colder and snowier than usual winter.
Given the success of a remote food drive that he organized last summer (collecting $8,000 in food items), Praneel was motivated to help more local community members. While searching for local nonprofit organizations, Praneel discovered the Street Medicine Institute (SMI) and reached out to Dr. Jim Withers, founder of Operation Safety Net and the SMI, to learn more about Operation Safety Net and how he could help.
During their conversation, Dr. Withers indicated that the COVID pandemic created a significant decrease in donations to Operation Safety Net and an increased need for winter clothes for residents of the winter homeless shelters.
Dr. Withers told Praneel that jackets and winter clothes are critical for community members who are homeless as they are often exposed for long durations to cold temperatures and hazardous conditions. This need motivated Praneel to organize a “remote” winter coat drive supporting Pittsburgh’s homeless population.
Dr. Withers expressed how Praneel was very focused on helping those on the streets. Praneel’s mother was a resident physician who worked with OSN many years ago and obviously the plight of those experiencing homelessness had a big impact on her.
“She passed that compassion on to her son, who worked incredibly hard to raise supplies and funds to help those we serve at the most difficult time of the year,” Dr. Withers said. “I love how the legacy of the Mission of Mercy is passed along over the generations.”
Praneel and his team of 29, including scouts, scout leaders, friends, and family members, distributed flyers to 2,000 houses instructing donors to place winter coats, accessories, or monetary donations in a plastic bag to be left on their porch on a designated day. With the help of their parents, scouts picked up the donations and transported them to Praneel’s house, where he, his family, and a few scouts spent a weekend sorting the donations by gender and size.
Doug Murray, OSN enhanced case manager & Winter Shelter team lead, reacted to the donation.
“When I saw the number of items donated, I was in shock,” Doug said. “I wasn’t sure where they came from at the time and when I learned it was from a young man, I was even more amazed. The generous donations were nicely packed and labeled with the types of coats and sizes and even the number of coats in each bag.”
Doug shared a first-hand experience related to the donation.
“I handed out the first coat from the donations to a young lady who came to our office with a coat that was too small and very thin. I found this woman a coat within minutes, that she absolutely loved, and couldn’t believe how nice it was. I also supplied her with a hat and gloves from the donations. The lady was so excited and said this made her day. I thank Praneel for his hard work and helping us to keep people warm throughout the winter months.”
Praneel is a senior at North Allegheny High School and is now counted in the 8% of scouts who have earned the Eagle Scout rank since 1912. Thanks to Praneel’s motivation and compassion, persons served by Operation Safety Net are a little warmer this winter.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Withers, Mr. (Brian) Matous, and Operation Safety Net to help our fellow Pittsburghers in need during these difficult times,” Praneel said reflecting on his project and interactions with the OSN staff.
“Looking back, last summer I was really uncertain about my ability to complete an outdoor service project and fulfill the requirements for Eagle Scout amidst the pandemic. I was fortunate enough to work with two great organizations that helped me develop as a leader and serve our community’s needs.
“This experience reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, who says, ‘to realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ I was not going to let this pandemic stop me from accomplishing my dream of becoming an Eagle Scout. Surely, without the help of numerous friends, family, scouts, scout leaders, and neighbors, this project would not have been a success. I look forward to volunteering with Operation Safety Net in the future.”
Praneel Murthy (center) and friends Ben Nixon (left) and Logan Henderson (right) announcing their remote coat drive prior to transporting the donations to Operation Safety Net.
Community donations destined for Operation Safety Net, collected by Praneel Murthy (left) and fellow scouts of Boy Scout Troop 329, including Matt Degnan (middle) and Quintin Gralia (right).
OSN is grateful for its ‘community angels’
By Brian Matous, Homeless Services supervisor
Over the last several years I have been trying to put into words what the many gifts we receive mean to those of us in the trenches. We always seem to be blessed by community angels at just the right time.
We had cycled through many of our coats and I was starting to worry when I received the call (from Praneel). I sort of smiled, because that’s what always seems to happen when our work’s heart is in the right place.
Literally, we received over 50 large black trash bags sorted by size of really nice coats from neighborhoods all around this young man’s sphere of influence. He organized this with his troop and pulled from more than just his own backyard. Getting the community involved to help people experiencing so many different crises is like a superhero power putting caring healing vibes into our own local universe.
Benefactors feel a little closer to the divide that is too often not very far from everyone’s front porches. We, the caregivers, feel connected in a way that makes us realize we are not alone in the fight for human rights and loving hurting people, and most importantly these gifts provide far more than warmth for the people we serve. Time and time again, the gratitude is followed by tears.
The way I see it … tears are an external representation of the emotional connections “We” are making. This Eagle scout and the thousands of people over the years like Praneel are a part of our “We.”