Coastal Virginia Magazine Giving Back Awards 2014

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Coastal Virginia Magazine is proud to reveal the third annual Giving Back Awards winners. The awards’ aim to highlight the region’s often unrecognized organizations that tirelessly work to address the many needs of our community. After a nomination period and a total of an astounding 25,938 online votes cast, the following 15 charities received the highest accolades.

CoVa Mag Giving Back Awards 2014 Blankets for the Homeless


Century Drive, Virginia Beach. 757-434-4543.

Number of votes: 2,932

Established: Started in October 2011 by Mariah Smith, 17 years old at the time, after helping her first homeless man at a Sonic restaurant. 

Mission: To encourage and inspire as many people as possible to join them in helping the homeless and to change the way the people view the homeless. “They are people in desperate need of help, compassion and dignity as they try to survive in the worst of circumstances. This is our mission, and our ministry. To spread God’s love while helping his hurting children.”

Key people: Mariah Smith, founder; Moira Askew, Smith’s mother and partner. Also, Smith’s father, brother and everyone who gets involved. Smith gets invited to speak at schools, organizations, churches and businesses that do donation drives, have lunch-making fellowships, etc. 

Programs: Smith is a student at Regent University, and Askew is a full-time special education assistant for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, so they do all of their work—speaking engagements; collecting and sorting donations; lunch-making; and distributing blankets, coats, hats, gloves, clothes, shoes, backpacks, tents, toiletries and anything else the homeless need throughout Coastal Virginia—after work and school seven days a week. Right now, they do not have any formal programs in place but are growing every day and recently received their 501C3.  

Volunteer opportunities: Helping to sort through the donations and organize everything, assisting at their storage unit, drop box locations, making lunches and hosting donation drives for the items they distribute. Also, they participate in a Sunday feeding ministry in Norfolk where they serve food to more than 100 people who are homeless or in need, and are always looking for volunteers to bring food and help serve. 

What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “Our biggest struggle is that we are non-funded. All of the donations that we get are the items that we distribute. We recently became a 501C3 and need to do fundraising. My mother works full time as a special education assistant at Kempsville Elementary, and I am a Student at Regent University. My speaking engagements are after that, and then we get everything ready and go distributing, so we honestly do not have the time needed to do the fundraising.”

What is the most rewarding part about what your non-profit does? “There are so many rewarding aspects in what I do. Just seeing the looks on the faces of the people that we help and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference in their lives. It is also very rewarding to know that I am inspiring thousands of people to get involved. Another rewarding part is how fast my organization grew and knowing that my personal story, which was something that was once a feeling of loss and confusion for me, was something that could be used to touch the hearts of the people that hear it. I do feel that everything happens for a reason. When I was a child, the story of my birth was hard for me to understand, and there was a terrible feeling of abandonment and not feeling worthy enough. I now believe that being born and abandoned on Christmas Eve is not something for me to mourn. It is part of who I am.” 

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