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Young but mighty: One student helps thousands of homeless

Clare Deignan  |  02 November 2017

A fluffy pillow, a warm blanket, a fresh towel and a toothbrush – these are just a list of everyday items that most of us take for granted. But Year 7 student at Sacred Heart College in Sorrento, WA, Vincent Pettinicchio knows to those sleeping rough, a few simple objects can make all the difference.

In 2013, Vincent founded his charity, Vincent’s Project for the Homeless. Beyond his love of soccer, surfing, and athletics, each year he finds time to supply packs of everyday essentials to homeless people in Perth and areas of WA.

Vincent began his journey to help the homeless at only seven years old, and how he got the idea for his project is just about as original as a Year 3 student starting a charity. It all began with a bout of bullying.

‘I was very sad and crying about it one weekend so mum told me to think of doing something nice for someone else’, explains Vincent.

And Vincent knew who he wanted to help. He witnessed the homelessness crisis in WA while going on walks with his grandparents who live near Perth. On these walks, Vincent encountered four different people that he says he’ll never forget. 

‘A young man sleeping on cardboard; a mum sitting on the floor crying who had a piece of cardboard that said her husband kicked her out of her house with nothing; a third person had a horrible stench of wee and was dirty and was asleep in a wheelchair on a bus; and the fourth was pushing all his belongings in a shopping trolley’.

So with these faces in mind, Vincent sat down to write his project.

A pack that makes a difference

The goal of Vincent’s packs is to give the homeless some help and let them know that someone cares. Coming up with what to put in his packs was easy. He says, ‘I just thought of what I needed to have every night and what things I used every day’.

Each pack contains just that: a pillow, pillowcase, towel, face washer, blanket, toiletries, bottle of water, poncho, notepad, and pen. Vincent’s volunteers help pack items into a duffle bag and the finishing touch is a tag with a simple note, ‘Just to let you know that someone cares’. Then volunteers help to deliver packs to local charities who distribute them to those in need.

Vincent’s packs do make a difference. ‘A counsellor told me something as simple as a notebook and pen can help a person with depression because it gives them something to use to write or draw’, explains Vincent. He’s learned that a toothbrush, razor and some shaving cream can change a person’s day. ‘A recipient I met at a homeless shelter told me that just by using the razor from my pack to shave made him feel normal and fresh’, shares Vincent. ‘He said it was important to be able to brush teeth and keep clean – a fresh start each day.’

Vincent says the homeless that receive packs are grateful and some recipients cry when they read the note letting them know someone cares. ‘One charity told us one recipient went back seven times to ask whether everything in the bag was for her’, he recalls.

Big goals and lots of help

Vincent isn’t one to back down from a challenge and it’s evident in the targets he sets for his project. When his project began, his target was 50 packs but he surpassed that and reached 185. This year, Vincent set his goal at 1,500 packs, and again he exceeded his goal by totalling 1,720.

It sounds like a lot of work but over time, Vincent says he and his family have streamlined the process. Many parishes, schools, and businesses donate items and money for the contents of his packs. And according to Vincent, packing actually doesn’t take that long, it’s double checking the packs that is time-consuming. 

With more than 400 volunteers packing and 120 loading the delivery cars and trucks, Vincent’s Project for the Homeless is a community event. This year, students from 19 different schools helped Vincent with his project. ‘We could not do it without everyone’s help’, says Vincent.

It’s a family affair

Without his family, especially his parents, Vincent says his project wouldn’t be what it is today. ‘My family is always there for me and are willing to help me achieve goals. My younger siblings have surprised me by how much they want to help too’.

Beyond all the help he receives, Vincent says his mom’s role is essential. ‘She gives up lots of weekends to take me places to speak, helps with the delivery and collection of items and co-ordinates the different schools for me, orders my stock, budgets my spending.’ 

Vincent’s mom, Pina Pettinicchio, admits it isn’t always easy. ‘Running a household, working two jobs and helping Vincent manage his project sometimes doesn’t leave enough time to do the things I need to’, says Pina.

It’s still worth it. ‘The main impact on the family is only 3–4 months a year’, she explains. ‘It’s not a big sacrifice for what Vincent and his siblings are learning from helping others.’

Pina’s message to parents if their kids want to make a difference in their community: ‘Let them! It will make children appreciate their lives and opportunities more.’ 

Don’t give up

At 12 years old, Vincent has a ten-year plan: to help 14,000 people, the 2013 estimated number of homeless in Perth (when Vincent began his project). Beyond that, he hopes to build his project nationally and possibly internationally. Today Vincent knows, ‘That I can achieve my dreams if I work hard and persevere’.

To kids who want to help in their community but don’t know where to start, Vincent says don’t give up! His own idea was turned down at first but that didn’t stop him. ‘If you have an idea, you need to find someone that believes in you and that can help you contact the right people or businesses’, he explains.

And his mum was right, ‘Helping others does make you feel good about yourself’.

To learn more about Vincent’s Project for the Homeless go to:

Pictured: Vincent and his sister Audrey delivering bags to North Reach Church in Joondalup.3 July 2017. Photo by Pina Pettinicchio.

Australian Catholics magazine would like to give a shout out to Benjamin Hicks, a student at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Benjamin’s Young Journalist Award article pointed us to Vincent Pettinicchio’s great work for the homeless. Sniffing out a good story is essential to becoming a journalist and we’d like to tell Benjamin to keep up the great work!



Topic tags: socialjustice-australia, volunteeringandtakingaction, healthycommunitylife

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