Liz McFarland started her full-time volunteer role in 2012 after a reduction in workforce by the Gannett Corporation, but she says volunteerism has always been part of her DNA. “I come from a volunteer-crazy family,” she says. “Most of the members of my family would donate their shoes or buy groceries to help someone else.”
And this dedication to giving back goes back generations. McFarland’s grandmother was the first director of the emergency food bank in Stockton, Calif.
McFarland worked for Gannett for 24 years, most recently at the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ), where she was responsible for overseeing customer service, carriers and sales — often working multiple shifts to get the paper out on time. She says this prepared her well for her new role.
“I was volunteering at a large shelter in Colorado that was set up by the Red Cross to help people during the fires. They were looking for multiple volunteers to work the different shifts, and I realized I could do all of them,” she laughs.
While McFarland currently contracts with a Minnesota newspaper managing sales vendors, the majority of her time these days is spent coordinating volunteers and sorting through clothes. As the lead liaison for Project 150 Reno, she oversees a chain of supply and clothes closets set up at high schools throughout Washoe County to ensure students have the clothes they need to be able to focus on their schoolwork.
In the Beginning
Project 150 was inspired by a television news story about 150 homeless students in Las Vegas.
Two Las Vegans rallied friends and colleagues to deliver several truckloads of food and supplies to them. Today, Project 150 Las Vegas is a non-profit organization serving more than 1,900 homeless, displaced and disadvantaged students in the Las Vegas area.
When Sue Barry, a long-time Reno resident had an opportunity to volunteer at a Student Shopping Day in Las Vegas, she was moved to bring the charity to Reno to serve the students of Northern Nevada. And Project 150 Reno was born.
Using the same grassroots methods that served them in Las Vegas, the members and volunteers of Project 150 reached out to family and friends in the Reno area. Barry agreed to head up the Northern Nevada chapter.
McFarland met Barry through a mutual friend, Jeff Eckert, who was already volunteering for Project 150 Reno. They let her know they were having a hard time making headway with the schools in Washoe County. This was a challenge McFarland knew she could address, so she started working with them to figure out the logistics in Reno.
How Project 150 Helps Locals
Now, six years later, Project 150 has partnered with 20 high schools in Washoe County, and they recently acquired a house — located at 1340 Foster Drive near Reno High School.
“We’re working on a boutique concept where students can come shop every Wednesday between 1 and 7 p.m.,” McFarland says. The concept will be tested in February, and if it’s successful, McFarland and her team plan to make it an ongoing program. One of the challenges Is getting enough volunteers to work those days.
“Giving away free clothes is a fun way to volunteer,” McFarland says. “You just have to be welcoming with the students, then help them find what they’re looking for.”
Students are asked to show a student ID, but no student will be turned away. Many of the students are refugees who have recently moved to the Reno area, and Liz says they’ll often turn up the weekend before school starts with no idea of what they need or what to wear.
One of the happy side effects of Liz’s efforts with Project 150 Reno is how she and her team are able to help other non-profit organizations in the area. As not all of the donations are suitable for teenagers, they are commonly gathering up women and children’s clothes for the Women and Children’s Center of the Sierra (WACCS) or the Good Shepherd’s Clothes Closet.
“We have a lot of good clothing, and it’s important to get it to the right places so we can help as many people as possible,” she says.
McFarland says she gets a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people help themselves. “If we help a student get their diploma, they’re on their way to being productive citizens,” she says. “When we help women learn English or increase their job skills through WACCS, they can do more for their families and the community.”
How You Can Help
Project 150 Reno collects teen-appropriate, gently used clothes, toiletries, non-perishable food and school supplies year-round. In addition to the Wednesday boutiques, volunteers are needed to help sort and fold donations, pack school orders and other miscellaneous tasks. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact McFarland at 775-203-4755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your organization or business can also host a drive to collect clothing and supplies. Or they can be donated at Finance of America Mortgage, 6900 S. McCarran Blvd, Suite 2020, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.; Stanley Steemer, 8993 Terabyte Drive, Suite F; or the Bridge Church, 1330 Foster Drive, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 9 to noon. Monetary donations are always welcome and can be made online.