Last December Annette Soules’ husband, a construction worker, fell on the site of Yale’s Art & Architecture building during its renovation. He broke several bones and has been unable to work since. Despite having only his workers’ compensation and her part-time salary to support three children, including a 12-year-old autistic son, Soules said her family was managing.
Then the Christmas season came along. Soules worried she would not be able to leave presents under the tree for her children come Christmas morning, she said in a phone interview from her Branford home on Sunday. Moments later her four-year-old daughter could be heard, excitedly running into the room to show her mother a small goody bag of pencils, erasers and candy she had just received at a holiday party.
“At this time of year little kids are just filled with hope,” Soules said.
And one Yale student, Leon Noel ’10, is trying to keep that hope alive.
On Nov. 9 Noel launched www.listfullofhope.com — modeled after classified Web sites like Craigslist but with a charitable twist: Instead of selling, users donate services and goods, used or new, to people who have posted their specific needs, which range from groceries to bookshelves. The site is meant to be used year round, though Noel said he was glad he launched it during the holiday season, when families affected by the weak economy are likely to be particularly in need.
Initially skeptical, Soules said she decided to give the site a try and decided to request Christmas presents for her children. Noel responded almost immediately, she said, and has arranged to deliver the gifts before Christmas. While Noel is a frequent donor himself, anyone can use the site to make plans to provide goods and services that are requested.
Noel explained that the site simply “aims to allow people to ask for what they need, big or small, and have the community and their neighbors come together and help provide.”
Currently targeting local residents in the New Haven area and its surrounding communities, List Full of Hope has received more than 45,000 hits since its launch. Noel maintains the site himself but meets weekly with about 20 other Elis, members of List Full of Hope’s Yale chapter, to ensure that all requests receive responses. In the coming months after winter break, Noel said he plans to create new branches of the site — for Philadelphia (his hometown), Boston, New York and, within a year, most other major East Coast cities — using contacts he has at colleges in those areas. He is also in the process of filing the site for nonprofit status.
Noel said he conceived the idea for List Full of Hope when he heard about a New Haven mother who had put up posts on Craigslist and blogs, asking for a jacket for her son. Before Noel could step in to help the woman, he explained, other people were already posting replies with offers to help. Then it hit him: “Why can’t that idea or that mindset happen all the time? And why isn’t there an outlet for that to occur?”
A member of multiple Dwight Hall community service groups his freshman and sophomore years, Noel said he was discouraged when events he spent time planning only drew small crowds. He was itching for greater personal contact with the people his efforts were meant to help, he added.
“You collect all those coats and then you just throw them on somebody else,” he said of traditional organizations that collect donations in bulk. “Why should you have to throw them on somebody else? Why can’t you see the fruit of your labor?”
Bill Thomas of Meriden was the first person Noel helped through the site. After losing his job in wholesale, Thomas needed basic food, men’s clothes and toilet paper for his sinus issues.
“It’s nice actually to look in their eyes and have them see my eyes and know that you’re not alone,” Thomas said of his exchange with Noel. “That’s good stuff.”
Now Thomas is “paying it forward,” as Noel said, by collecting toys and other goods from his aunt’s estate to give to other posters.
To attract people like Thomas, the Yale Chapter has advertised the site online and to local businesses and organizations, and Noel has handed out List Full of Hope stickers to “every blessed person that I talk to,” he said.
Channette Diaz, a New Haven nursing student, said she heard about List Full of Hope from a classmate and decided to request a Christmas tree for her four children on the Web site. Another local woman, Cheryl, who asked not to give her last name, requested presents for her 6-year-old son. Both said the responses they received were more generous than expected.
NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR
Having come from a science-based high school that required four years of education in computer programming, Noel said he had done some small-scale web design before launching List Full of Hope.
A biological anthropology major, he maintains the simply designed site and pays for its monthly cost of less than $16 dollars, small enough that he does not have to sell ad space. Users respond to posted requests by entering their e-mail addresses and messages offering to help.
“Then the site disappears,” Noel explained. “You don’t need the site anymore. It’s the interaction between the neighbors. It’s the people in the New Haven community coming together.”
Reading the posts — “every single one” — has become a self-professed obsession for Noel. Pointing out the 90 posts on the site on Saturday, he showed his excitement at even a small increase from the day before.
“People go straight to their e-mail; I go straight to List Full of Hope,” he said with a laugh. “I carry it around on my cell phone.”
And from that close observance, he said, there has not been any “malicious material or spam.”
“I don’t know why scammers aren’t on the site yet. I think there might be some moral quandary that they’re having about spamming my site,” he quipped.
While Noel said he anticipates some abuse in the future, “even if one or two people have been helped at the end of the day, it’s been worthwhile,” he added.
Thomas said he had a friend wait with him for Noel’s first delivery but now feels “100 percent safe” using the site. “He didn’t know who I was,” Thomas said of Noel. “And he trusted me.”
On Sunday, members of the sorority Sigma Psi Zeta gathered to make holiday cards for families to send to soldiers in Iraq in response to a post on the Web site, said sister Tenley Mochizuki ’09, who is also involved in List Full of Hope’s Yale chapter. Noel and Mochizuki both said they hope other Yale organizations will collaborate with the site in the future.
“It’s bringing communities together, getting them involved,” Noel said. “And I think it’s really working.”