Ethan Shaikun, Congregation Shaare Emeth
At 5 years old, while visiting family in Washington, D.C., Ethan witnessed firsthand the homeless issue in the United States. It was difficult for him to understand why these people were sleeping on park benches, street corners and in alleys without a safe or stable place to call home. Even though it was foreign to him, Ethan was determined to seek out homeless people in other cities he and his family visited and feed them a hot meal.
“Picking a mitzvah project was a no-brainer for Ethan,” said his mother. Ethan, son of Amy and Louis Shaikun of Wildwood, wanted to help the homeless in his hometown of St. Louis. Given the city’s unpredictable weather, and at times harsh winters, he felt the best way to help was to make winter kits to keep the homeless warm during frigid days and nights.
Ethan’s parents helped him create a GoFundMe account to spread the word. His message explained his passion to help those less fortunate than himself. He believed the more people you get involved, the more people you can help. Ethan wanted to raise enough money to make winter kits, which included socks, hats, gloves, scarves, blankets, hand warmers and non-perishable snacks. In the end, Ethan raised about $800.
With support from family and friends, Ethan kept more than 50 homeless people warm in St. Louis. He also reached out to Bombas sock company, which donated 250 pairs of socks. The company’s mission is to provide a sustainable solution to the most requested clothing item at homeless shelters - socks.
While doing his project, Ethan read an article in the Jewish Light about Jack Seigel and his winter outreach Jewish community drive. Seigel was the last piece of the puzzle to help Ethan complete his mission. On Jan. 20, Seigel contacted Ethan to inform him that St. Peters Church would be opening its doors for the homeless due to the chilling forecast. His family loaded the car with the 50-plus winter kits Ethan put together and headed to the shelter.
“Watching Ethan as he handed out the bags and hearing the men tell him about their life stories was priceless,” his mother said. Once the kits were dispersed, the men tore into them, ripping off the tags and trying on each item. The excitement and the smiles on their faces when they saw the brand new winter apparel brought tears to all. One of the church leaders mentioned that socks are like gold to these men and they will be the first thing someone will try to steal.
A student at Whitfield School, Ethan stated many times how amazed as well as how sad it was to witness the men’s excitement about getting two pair of socks. “I never even thought about socks being so important, I have a whole drawer dedicated to socks,” he said.
Ethan’s parents were so proud of him. They said it was exciting to watch the respect and compassion their son showed towards these strangers who truly felt like friends by the end of the evening. The fist bumps, the hugs and the gratitude they demonstrated was indescribable.