A psychology student minoring in marketing turned a silly TikTok challenge with her followers into a real-life effort that helped feed many homeless people in her local neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri.
According to WRCB-TV, graduating senior Maya Nepos was set to leave her school, Washington University, in a few days when she noticed she had $600 worth of unused meal plan money left. The lack of in-person classes due to the ongoing pandemic caused her not to use her plan much. So she thought of a fun way to utilize her balance and invited her nearly 330,000 followers on the popular social media app to follow her journey as she raced through $600 in two days.
Nepos, a self-proclaimed social justice and political advocacy creator, purchased a large number of snacks from the campus market. However, eating through it would be a bigger task within itself, so she decided to give the food to those less fortunate.
The young woman soon created care packages equipped with non-perishable food items, masks and containers of hand sanitizer to keep its receiver safe from COVID and delivered about 40 of them to homeless people in St. Louis. She documented her journey on TikTok and almost instantly went viral, having garnered over seven million views on her profile.
She told reporters that she was mindful of the potential recipients, making sure to “be realistic of the resources they had with them.” She added, “I actually was so focused on trying to make the donations stretch and finding deals on non-perishable food items that I actually forgot to buy my own groceries that day.”
According to an article published by the Star Tribune in July 2020, the homelessness rate was already increasing, reaching 18 percent in January of that same year. It also stated that in St. Louis County, an estimated 1 out of every 386 people is homeless; statewide, the average is 1 in 706.
The county’s continuum of care coordinator, Will Wilson, said in a statement that the problem was lack of space. “There’s nowhere for them to go,” he explained. “We need more shelter beds, more permanent supportive housing and more affordable housing especially.”
Nepos shared similar sentiments, stating, “There needs to be more active community engagement.” Instead of sitting in buildings, she said, “and saying homeless people can come here and get help if they need, (they) need to be proactive and offer a hand up.”
Impressed by her progress, Nepos’ followers donated money to her cause using cash transferring apps like Venmo and PayPal; she received a total of $746. The news outlet reported that in less than a week, the college graduate delivered 80 to 100 packages to those in need.
As a result, she gained some new friends, including an unhoused man named Darryl, whom she met during her deliveries. She bought the 52-year-old father-of-two a burger and fries from a nearby restaurant after she ran out of packages. Darryl has become popular on her social media page and she even convinced the once dubious man into getting the COVID-19 vaccine.