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Life & Work with Kyrja Withers of New Port Richey

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kyrja Withers. 

Kyrja, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
We started the Hands of the Goddess outreach program in the winter of 2010 when a friend who operated a private facility for disabled, homeless women mentioned her need for toiletries for her live-in clients. As a former single parent of two teenage boys, I understood all too well that toiletries were a luxury item that many people, including my own family, had to do without. That Winter Solstice season, we reached out to the Pagan community in our surrounding neighborhoods for donations to help these women in need with a Goddess-like gift for Yule. 

Because I am an author of a series of books for Pagan children, I have a following all over the country, as well as some locations outside of the United States. When I asked for help in keeping this new tradition alive, we received an amazing amount of support from all quarters – so much so, that we decided we had to expand our reach to help others. And from there, our outreach to help our homeless and at-risk neighbors – and their pets! – has only grown. For several years, until the pandemic hit, we conducted a “toiletry” outreach each month and also conducted a pet food outreach (“HotG Bandit’s Buddies” outreach) twice a month. 

The primary focus of our nonprofit organization is providing toiletries and other self-care items for our homeless and at-risk neighbors in Pasco County, Florida. To this end, we became actively involved with local government and non-government agencies, organizations, and associations whose objectives aligned with ours. After several years of active participation, we discovered that local government officials are not, in the least, interested in “helping” at all – much to our dismay. And because we are not a Christian organization, we were rebuffed at many turns. These experiences did not, of course, deter our determination to make life a tiny bit brighter and/or easier for our neighbors. 

Our 501(c)3 tax-exempt status is filed with the federal government as a non-religious corporation. Too often we have witnessed and have been made aware of, other programs, individuals, and organizations which require that those who wish to receive benefits be made to pray, serve, participate in some kind of program, or otherwise be made to demonstrate some kind of religious declaration before receiving those benefits. We are appalled by this behavior. Additionally, there are those programs which require one be of a certain gender, religion, color, or other specific requirement in order to receive the benefits offered. In no way, shape, nor form do we accept this intolerance. 

You should also know that 100% of all donations received are spent in acquiring additional toiletry, self-care, and pet food items; we receive no stipends, salary, expenses, or other remunerations. 

While we are proud to be Pagans, our organization is made up of individuals from many different walks of life, and we happily serve any and all who wish to be served. Even those who outwardly express distain for us. We are the face of Pagans everywhere, which means we make sure to let everyone know “YOU” are welcome here. 

The pandemic has, unfortunately, curtailed our ability to interact directly with people as much and often as we used to, so we have had to adjust. Throughout the ten (plus) years, we’ve been in operation, HotG has shifted to include many different kinds of activities, including new associations with local businesses who provide donations of food and other items. Big Lots is an excellent partner. We are also able to get pet food from Voices of Change Animal League (VOCAL) once or twice a month. Florida Food Force has an amazing program which allows us to provide food on a weekly basis for 24 families who pay a very small monthly fee. We have also partnered with The First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey by providing them with food and toiletry items each month for their ongoing programs in helping our homeless and at-risk neighbors. 

We have an annual “Thanksgathering” event wherein we provide a turkey and all the fixin’s for 30+ local at-risk families, and at Yule, we provide a significant amount of gift cards to our homeless neighbors to local stores. 

The vast majority of what we are able to do is because of the PEOPLE who support us with personal donations, both small and large. Both with monetary donations and with the monthly “HotG Challenge” items (toiletries and the like) we ask for. ONE roll of toilet paper is solid gold to someone who is living in the woods and has none. 

We also collect garbage from our contributors! It’s true. We have received a TON of grocery bags over the years because I make plastic mats for our homeless neighbors and give them out. When we buy laundry detergent or dish soap, everyone contributes the empty water bottles so we can make the soap go further – mindful of the fact that those who are homeless have to carry everything they own in their backpack or their arms. Recently, we started collecting bottle caps and other “acceptable items” for a program which recycles these things and makes sturdy benches out of them. We have received these “garbage items” from local neighbors and from across the country when we call for them. Because even folks who have no money to spare, usually have plastic bags we can use – so they feel included. And that’s what it’s all about. Being included – regardless of whether you have a roof over your head or not. Personal dignity and personal choices – that’s what HotG is all about. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The most-obvious roadblock for us was being purposefully excluded from being able to have “outreach” events – where we set up tables full of toiletries and other items for people to choose from – on the properties of those organizations who were not inclusive of non-Christian organizations. And while we took the proverbial “high road” by contacting the governmental agencies responsible for managing these situations, we were still blocked. It wasn’t until a private business owner allowed us access to their property to conduct our HotG Outreach events that we were able to proceed unabated. After a couple of years of monthly events and active participation in local government forums, wherein we demonstrated exactly who we are and how we operate, were we held in high esteem by many other local non-profit organizations. We are, however, still viewed with a jaundiced and weary eye by local elected officials because we are not shy in expressing our unfavorable view of their non-efforts to help the citizens of their districts in creating a better economy for ALL, instead of the few. 

Engaging with elected officials whose public statements are insistent that we HAVE no homeless people in our county is thoroughly exhausting, though, so we put all of our energy into actually helping individual people instead of running headlong into dense, unmovable walls. We get a lot more happy smiles this way. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am the author of a series of books for Pagan children entitled “Rupert’s Tales.” Rupert is a rabbit who is young, furry, brown, and curious! As “Friends of Rupert” go with our furry friend on his adventures, we learn about the Wheel of the Year, and how Pagans celebrate seasonal holidays. We learn about reducing, reusing, and recycling, and how intention and imagination are powerful tools. We also learn about magick, and about how Pagans view the natural elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. And so much more! 

We have done fun, interactive performances of “Rupert’s Tales and Tunes” all over Florida and in a few out-of-state venues as well. We read one of the stories, sing made-up songs, and learn a few things along the way. The most important of which is that your heart is the very best place to start! And that all knowledge is worth having. 

Rupert’s Tales currently consists of seven hardback books, one coloring book, and four paperback books. 

I have also authored several other, non-Rupert young-adult and adult fantasy-genre novels; all-told, I have 25 published titles. 

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
Once upon a time ago, I was a Russian-language interpreter while enlisted in the U.S. Army. 

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3 Comments

  1. missy

    November 17, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    I’m not sure where to begin here. Kyrja and Randy are very caring, selfless, generous, hard working both in mind and body for everyone. A lot get help that have not even met them in person. I have not clue about all that they do as I am just one little peg in the wheels that they have going. I have received and give what help they might want from me. I offer to help and so then they will let me know what I can do IF I CHOOSE to.
    It took me three years to realize and express that I love them both for just being them.

  2. Sue Andreski

    November 18, 2021 at 1:59 am

    Wonderful organization. Dedicated to helping others-no strings attached.

  3. Amber Henry

    November 18, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    I personally know and have been benefited by HOG and I admire this group for helping with open hearts and open hands. it’s amazing and I wish more charities were similar. not care what religion you are and opening your hearts to everyone. Kyrja is extremely busy and I am not sure how she does all that lol. But if she needs help there are plenty of hearts to help.

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