On Feb. 9, eight University of Georgia students spent the night packing bags that they later distributed to the homeless population in downtown Athens.

This has become a typical Friday activity for many of these students.

This event is called Hope for the Homeless and occurs on select Friday nights every month, the most recent taking place on Feb. 9.

While the event is largely rooted in Christian values, its members want to encourage students from different backgrounds and beliefs to attend gatherings in the future.

“Hope started out as an event made up of [Baptist Collegiate Ministries] students, but we’re not affiliated with BCM at all. Anyone is welcome here,” said Hope co-leader Courtney Farrow, a sophomore social work major from Covington.

Founded two years ago by a group of UGA students, the size of the event did not demote the impact the group made Feb. 9.

“This is the first time someone has acknowledged me today, and I’ve been sitting here since 8:30 a.m. this morning,” said Aaron Hull, a care package recipient. “I feel like I’m invisible, like a disease.”

Hull, a homeless Athens resident battling cancer, said any money he receives goes toward his chemotherapy medicine.

According to a report presented by the Athens-Clarke County Department of Housing and Community Development, the homeless population has risen since 2015.

According to a 2017 Point-In-Time Count, which is a count of homeless individuals and families in Athens on a single night in January, there were 239 homeless people, compared to 226 in 2015.

“There’s so many different ways for people to support the homeless community.” – Sydney McCall, director’s assistant at The Sparrow’s Nest

Sydney McCall, the director’s assistant at The Sparrow’s Nest, an Athens homeless shelter, said this count can be deceiving.

“It’s hard for the homeless count to be accurate because they’re just counting the people that they see,” McCall said.

According to the Hope for the Homeless GoFundMe page, there have been instances where they’ve run out of care packages before reaching all the homeless people in the area.

“Having extra funds and supplies will allow them to, hopefully, be able to be over prepared and never leave someone in need empty handed,” the GoFundMe page read.

On the Feb. 9 event, the care packages were made at the apartment of co-leader Kevin Cervantes. Each was filled with sandwiches, water bottles, snacks, Band-Aids and other items that homeless people may not have access to.

After making the care packages, the group packed up and went to the BCM parking lot on campus, where the group prayed before splitting into smaller groups for bag distribution.

 Members of Hope are working to increase participation and want to collaborate with shelters in the Athens. So far, Farrow said they never receive negative reactions from the care packages.

“There’s so many different ways for people to support the homeless community. An important one is to just ask homeless residents what their specific needs are and direct them to resources or shelters,” McCall said.