9-year-old Isle of Palms girl ‘makes a difference’ for homeless of tent city

Violet Merrey, 9, of Isle of Palms gives out backpacks full of goods Tuesday with state Rep. Wendell Gilliard to the homeless residents of tent city, near downtown.

When tent city residents Brian and Unikwa Anderson received bags of goods Tuesday from a 9-year-old Isle of Palms girl, they were near tears.

“It means so much,” said Brian Anderson. “Everything she’s given us is more than what we had.”

Violet Merrey saw the tents a few weeks ago and was told by her mom when she asked why they were there that they were homes for people in need. Wanting to help, the girl spent two weeks going door-to-door on Isle of Palms, Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island to ask people to make a backpack full of various necessities and gifts to give out to the homeless.

“I am trying to help those in need,” Violet said. “I wanted to make them feel human again and refreshed and stuff like that.”

She also wanted to send a message. After collecting more than 70 bags, Violet called state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, to explain “Project Human” and enlist his help reaching out to the people in tent city.

Gilliard obliged and stood side-by-side Tuesday with Violet under the Interstate 26 underpass on Meeting Street to hand out the backpacks she collected. He said she initially reached out to him because of his work to help the homeless.

In October, Gilliard sent a letter to Gov. Nikki Haley asking her to declare a state of emergency for homelessness in South Carolina. He’s pushing for the state to help provide more money for services for the homeless, and more affordable housing.

“It’s speaks volumes of her,” he said of Violet. “She articulated it so well to me when we talked on the phone. It just warms your heart.”

He added that the S.C. Coalition for the Homeless estimates that there are between 6,500 and 8,000 homeless people across the state.

“Now we have a child that can help us drive the message home,” Gilliard said.

The Andersons have lived in tent city for six months without their five children. They said they were recently granted housing in Section 8 and hopeful to be reunited with their kids. The bags from Violet lifted their spirits, they said.

“This is amazing,” Unikwa Anderson said. “It makes a difference.”

Her husband said he was inspired by the young girl.

“She’s like hope for the future,” he added.

Violet’s grandfather Jim Pascarella helped hand out the bags and said he didn’t know whether to smile or cry. When she first told him her idea, he said he thought, “That’s typical Violet.”

“She’s just a wonderful child,” he said.

Violet plans to make Project Human a yearly occurrence and said she felt proud seeing the reactions of those who received a bag. Gilliard commended her for her commitment.

“This little girl really did touch the hearts and souls today of people who needed it this time of year,” he said.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.