When Niki Mock arrived in Northeast Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to give away 25 bikes, household items and more than a truckload of clothes, it didn’t take long for lines to form.
“The bikes went in 15 minutes. Everything else went within two hours,” Mock said in an interview. “The need is just unbelievable.”
Mock, a freelance video producer, has worked with nonprofits in Southeast D.C. for the last 25 years.
In March, when the pandemic came to a head, Mock posted on the NextDoor site, reaching out to her Bethesda neighborhood in search of children’s items to give to families in need while cooped up inside.
“Children’s books, toys, games, clothing, extra blankets,” Mock said. “Anything that I felt like low-income families might need during this time in particular.”
There was an outpouring of donations from her neighbors, with items filling up her porch twice. The Invisible Hand foundation provided her with money to get 10 bikes and 25 refurbished laptops for students to adapt to virtual education.
She brought these items periodically to various hotels and shelters in the Southeast D.C. area, but soon felt she needed to boost her efforts.
“Everything has kind of taken off from there,” she said. “Every time I would show up somewhere, people would ask for other things.”
She reached out once again on NextDoor and her social media accounts looking for additional donations, encouraging people to clean out their closets and donate any unneeded items. She got another huge response.
She then teamed up with Steve Hill and Gregory Baldwin, members of the nonprofit Helping Hands Inc., which brings food weekly to the Randall United Methodist Church in Northeast D.C. to give out to residents. They took one side of the church, and she took the other.
“We had people coming back and forth,” Baldwin, president of Helping Hands, said in an interview. “She was Christmastime … in the summertime. For the children and grown-ups.”
According to 2018 American Community Survey census data, the percent of people below the poverty level in the church’s ZIP code is estimated to be 27.9%. It is 13.1% in the United States.
Mock and Baldwin said the bikes were the hottest commodity.
“That’s why all the people were lining up: They saw all the bikes,” Baldwin said. “It was an extraordinary day. It was a blessing.”
They made sure social distance restrictions were in place, with no more than 25 people allowed in the area at a time. Masks were required. They set up 20 tables of items far apart from each other.
Mock estimated that 100 people came.
She said she often feels hypocritical donating items to D.C. families in need, then returning to her more affluent Bethesda neighborhood. But, she said, donating her time rather than money makes her feel like she’s doing her part to narrow the inequality gap.
“It seems so impossible to understand what could ever be done to change the lives of kids there because it’s such a domino effect of all the things that are wrong,” she said. “I definitely get something — a lot — out of doing this. People go, ‘Oh, it’s so nice of you,’ or this or that, but I would be kind of miserable or guilt-ridden if I didn’t.”
Mock welcomes donations. She can be reached at email@example.com.
She said she is gearing up for another distribution in late July in Southeast D.C. She hopes it will draw larger crowds and offer more items.
“I expect it to be much bigger,” Mock said. “Which means I have to really start collecting a lot more.”