College Student to Distribute 2,000 Holiday Cards to Philadelphia’s Homeless

"I have seen the homelessness firsthand and it's a battle," Ali Boettlin said.

— -- One college student has launched a holiday card drive for the homeless after being inspired by volunteering at a shelter.

Ali Boettlin, 21, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collected 2,000 cards, surpassing her original goal of 500 in just a few weeks.

"To the people that help me out, I'm just so grateful," Boettlin told ABC News. "We often forget that people are good and this is the perfect reminder. For the people that I'm helping, I have seen the homelessness firsthand and it's a battle. No one wakes up and chooses to be homeless. I've always donated the basic needs -- the toiletries, the shampoos, toothbrushes. This time I'm thinking out of the box a little bit while doing something to make them smile."

Boettlin has volunteered at the Hope Rescue Mission in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, with her mother, Marijo Smith, and stepfather, Jim Smith, who serves as the shelter's development director. After working with homeless men and receiving cards from her mom in the mail, Boettlin decided to begin her project "You've Got Mail."

Robert Turchi, executive director at Hope, told ABC News that Boettlin has "a huge heart for those in need."

"Ali's compassion for others doesn't stop at just feeling sympathy for them in their hardships, she looks for ways to alleviate the weight of those hardships through her kindness," Turchi said. "Individuals facing homelessness certainly suffer physically, but for many, the emotional suffering is even more painful. Feeling alone and hopeless cuts deeper than feeling hungry and cold. A kind gesture, such as Ali's encouragement card project, can be that light in someone's day to keep them striving and hoping for a better tomorrow."

In November, Boettlin asked her Facebook friends for holiday-themed cards, and soon, her inbox was flooded with people offering to help, she said.

"I had people I knew, people I've never spoken to before and people I haven't spoken to since grade school," Boetllin said. "I said, 'If you have cards, here is my address.' I'm not turning down any, so it's been really great."

In honor of the "You've Got Mail" initiative, Boettlin and friends recently hosted a card-making party where she met Libby Aulenbach with Thirty-One Gifts, an Ohio-based company that sells bags and accessories.

Aulenbach donated 65 bags to Boettlin that contained blankets, scarves and toiletries.

Boettlin will distribute the cards and bags to homeless people on the street and at a local shelter.

Boettlin hopes her project reminds others that they can make a difference in someone's life.

"I've conducted interviews with some of them and I put together a video for Hope," she said. "Just listening to their stories, their health caves in, or get a divorce and lose their way. You pass them on the street and don't know. The biggest thing is just to listen because everybody has a story and from that story, you can find out how to help."