Twelve years ago USF College of Public Health graduate student Champaigne Spivey and her family left her hometown of San Diego, California and took to the road for change.
Change was to come, but not in the form they expected.
While driving across country to Tampa for her mother’s new job, they experienced a car accident—flipping from one side of the highway to another—leaving them homeless.
“That turned our lives 360 [degrees],” Spivey said. “We went from coming here and having everything set up to having nothing.”
Spivey said her mother’s job did not work out and their family had lost it all, even living in a hotel for a month.
“It was thanks to maternal and child health programs that were already in place at my school that I was able to smoothly transition into school, have transportation to and from school, eventually have a real home, and overall excel in my education,” she said. “It was thanks to those programs that my family was able to get on our feet and move forward in the best direction.”
The current master’s student has taken her personal experience with homelessness and her passion for helping others and turned it in to her own 501c3 nonprofit called Blessed Hands, Blessed Hearts.
“I understand the plights and problems of people who are homeless and people who are impoverished in general,” she said. “At the time of my organization’s development, I was working at a local homeless shelter, and I noticed a lot of people would come by with a heart to give various things to those staying there. Unfortunately, because of how things were systematically, they were not able to give directly to the individuals who were in the shelter. That really pushed me to want to be able to create a system and environment where the items being donated are going directly to those in need and not being lost in transition or left in a storage room.”
Spivey said she originally started her volunteering efforts with small acts, such as creating care packs from donations she received from family and friends, but she wanted to do more.
Blessed Hands, Blessed Hearts, which was officially designated a nonprofit in 2017, is entirely donation based.
“Any donation we get goes back out to the community, whether it be food, groceries, clothing, shoes,” Spivey said.
She runs it alongside her partner Ryan Stocker, also a USF alumnus who holds a bachelor’s degree in communications.
Spivey earned her undergraduate degree from the USF COPH in 2017 and said continuing her education in public health was the right next step for her.
“I decided to pursue public health halfway through my undergraduate years because I realized what I thought I wanted to be wasn’t going to be as hands on, and that’s really important to me, being right there helping the person,” she said.
Dr. Anna Armstrong, COPH assistant professor, said that Spivey is humble about her passion.
“Champaigne is a thinker and doer,” she said. “She can seem very introverted and quiet as a student in the classroom, but there is nothing quiet going on…she is a thinker, a planner, an activist. What I have observed is that she sets goals and accomplishes them. “
She said Blessed Hands, Blessed Hearts often partners with other local organizations to identify areas in need across Tampa Bay.
Last year for example, Spivey said, she partnered with a local organization to hold a community resource event in an urban neighborhood. As part of the event, her organization acquired a lengthy list of families who needed groceries, along with educational materials and hygiene items.
Spivey and Stocker hit the pavement following the event, speaking to places like Publix, Fresh Market, and Aldi’s for gift cards for those families.
“I want others to understand and know how vital it is that we continue to work together, and uplift one another in order to reach our optimal level of success,” she said. “With the amount resources and opportunities we have access to there is no reason that any family should go hungry or that any individual should be homeless. According to Feeding Tampa Bay, approximately 348,590 people are food insecure in the Tampa Bay region alone. Meaning, one quarter of the population in the Tampa Bay region have no idea where their next meal is going to come from. The only question you should be asking yourself after hearing this is ‘What am I going to do about it?’”
After graduating with her master’s degree, Spivey said she hopes to work as a regional director for a state maternal and child health program, but for now she will continue to focus on her work with Blessed Hands, Blessed Hearts.
“It’s vital that whenever we have the opportunity to give to someone else who needs it, and to change someone else’s life, that we take that opportunity, because it can make a world of difference,” she said. “It can be the smallest things; a pair of shoes can make a difference in someone’s life. The perfect time to start making a difference is now.”
For more information on Blessed Hands, Blessed Hearts, including information on how to make a donation, visit their website.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health