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The world of the homeless seems very far from us — but in some ways it’s near. Job loss, physical disability, or a loss of a loved one can be devastating. There are more than 600,000 people homeless in the United States right now. Those struck by personal tragedies have lost their homes and have been ignored by their families and friends. Most of us live in neighborhoods where homeless people aren’t common. However, when you travel to the city, or even to downtown Albany, you will notice the alarming amount of homelessness.

I was inspired by my own family to help this cause. In our house, we have a box which we call the “sadaqah box”. Sadaqah, in Islam, means “voluntary giving”. It encompasses any act of compassion or generosity. Every time we are thankful for something, we place a couple of dollars in the box. At the end of the month, we gather that money and give it to someone in our community. This is isn’t the only way you can help.

The very first step is to give kindness. We can make a difference in the lives of the homeless by simply smiling, rather than ignoring or dismissing. Next time you see a homeless person, ask them about their day; they will be delighted. You can buy them fruit from the grocery store next time you’re shopping, or buy something extra next time you’re ordering out.

I understand how difficult it is to donate money, especially since most teens don’t have jobs. You can donate clothes, toys, or even recyclables. Since the winter is harsh, try to donate sweaters or blankets. You can volunteer at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. When I first volunteered at a soup kitchen it was intimidating. But when you start talking to each person, one by one, you realize how lucky you are. If you would like to volunteer, you can contact the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York or a local soup kitchen.