Ricky Smith brings the hugs to Giving Tuesday

Ricky SmithRicky Smith hugs.

Not demure “good to see you” hugs, but full-contact, arms locked, “love to see you” hugs. Like his comedy, his charity work and his personality, Smith’s hugs are in-your-face, premeditated and real.

“Hugs and high-fives are the quickest, cheapest way to brighten someone’s day,” Smith said during a recent visit to the offices of United Way of Greater Cleveland. “You’re like, a jerk for not accepting a hug. It’s like turning down a cupcake. I promise you, if you give out five high fives and five hugs everyday for two weeks, your life will be better for it.”

This Dec. 2, for #GivingTuesday, Smith will join United Way of Greater Cleveland to raise donations for such basics as soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, diapers and other personal products for community members in need.

Smith, a native of Warrensville, attended Morehouse College and once worked for Kraft Foods. He has written material for David Spade and is a writer on Cartoon Network’s “Black Dynamite,” a series based on the 2009 movie. His random acts of giving, magnified on social network channels, garnered attention in Cleveland and led to the formation of “Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere,” known as R.A.K.E.

#GivingTuesday is R.A.K.E.’s first collaboration with United Way, but Smith’s history with the organization reaches back to his elementary school days.

“I have been a big fan of United Way, even as a kid, as a third grader wearing the pin. For R.A.K.E. to be a partner of United Way, as big and established as it is, is huge,” Smith said. “Giving Tuesday is volunteering that can be fun; that aligns with R.A.K.E. 1 million percent.

“You don’t have to be LeBron to give back. You don’t have to be Kim K. to give back. It can be as basic as toiletries, the essentials. Most people don’t even finish a bottle of lotion; they throw it away and start a new one. But to a person on the streets, that bottle is the world. Not just the item, but letting them know someone cares. There are so many people who just need a little push.” he said.

Those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamp program) are prohibited by federal law from using SNAP to purchase soap and toiletry items and must obtain them through community providers such as food pantries.

Stephen Wertheim, COO of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, emphasized the critical need for basic toiletries.

“A major share of our funding comes from the federal government, which  will only allow us to purchase food items. People come to food pantries, especially with children, and need diapers, toilet paper, even paper towels,” he said. “Only through private donations can we provide these basics.

“When you go to Giant Eagle for a normal shopping trip, half your cart is probably toiletries and personal items. Imagine sending a young child to school who doesn’t have soap, or toothpaste or a toothbrush. Those basics are so very important to their ability to learn. On a job interview, one has to represent  one’s self well and these items are very important.”

Smith said he has rearranged his schedule to be in Cleveland on #GivingTuesday
“I will be in many places, popping up, maybe with shampoo in my hair, maybe shaving something, just being silly,” Smith said. Trying to bring the funny aspect to it.”

Your #GivingTuesday donation will help local food pantries provide these critical hygiene items to those in our community who are working toward independence and stability. To learn more and to donate, visit GivingTuesdayCLE.org.

Smith’s #GivingTuesday adventures may be followed on Twitter at @RAKENow and online at www.rakenow.org.

“We’re all in this together,” Smith said. “On Giving Tuesday, we can show we are connected.”

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