UT-Austin student organizes donation drive in support of LGBTQ+ youth

Ava Motes, Life & Arts Reporter

On a sweltering June evening, Mia Ternus sits outside the Circle C Swim Center, gesturing to a handmade sign that promotes Food Truck Night, a monthly event in her neighborhood. For the biochemistry sophomore, this event is not about swimming or socializing. Instead, Food Truck Night offers an opportunity to collect donations for Out Youth Austin. As the night goes by, many friendly faces stop by the large tent and donate what ends up making 15 care kits full of hair brushes, toothpaste and other items of that nature.

”Everybody was really friendly and supportive of what we were doing,” co-organizer Nicole Vu said. “When we showed up to food trailer night, a lot of people came by and dropped off donations, so that was really encouraging.”

To provide support for LGBTQ+ youth in Austin during Pride Month, Ternus scheduled a supply drive that will conclude at the end of June. The donations will go to Out Youth, an organization offering resources such as counseling, summer camps, care kits, art supplies and food to LGBTQ+ kids and teens.

“In Texas, a lot of people don’t support LGBTQ+ teens, and politically, there’s been a lot of strife,” Ternus said. “Reassuring kids that … they’re going to be safe is important.”

Vu said the pair knew they wanted to create a donation drive, but originally did not have a nonprofit organization in mind to donate the proceeds to. However, after asking around her neighborhood, Vu and Ternus were referred to Out Youth. Ternus said they were drawn to the organization because of recent anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Texas politics, including a recent legal directive from the governor’s desk to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. As an EMT who regularly interacts with queer youth on the job, Ternus said she feels concerned about the implications of such political maneuvers.

“A big part of my job is child psych transfers, (and) a lot of these kids have had trouble coming out or are struggling with their gender identity,” Ternus said. “You already have to go through so much to come out to the world. Then, dealing with all those repercussions — it’s traumatic.”

After inquiring about the organization’s high-priority donation items, Ternus said she geared the donation toward items such as toiletries and personal care kits to stock community closets. From there, the organizers promoted the event by posting on their own social media accounts, making flyers, posting information about the drive on several community organizations’ Facebook accounts and going around the Austin community to take donations. Ternus’ friend Luka Verheul said he hopes the positive results of this donation drive will prompt even more service ventures and opportunities for Ternus in the future.

“I’m super proud of Mia ,” Verheul said. “Out Youth is a fantastic cause (because it is) helping people with something that often goes overlooked.”

As of June 19, Ternus’ donations reached 12 hygiene kits, 47 food items, 79 toiletries and 204 makeup items, and she plans to continue collecting donations through the end of the month at South Austin Cleaners and her own home. As a UT student, Ternus said she particularly encourages fellow Longhorns to donate both monetarily and physically and is willing to collect donations on campus.

“Making a (safe) atmosphere is important,” Ternus said. “The need to support these kids is so much bigger, especially now. There are lots of children and teens that (do) not feel safe at all, so I feel like making this atmosphere is important not just for Austin, but to spread throughout Texas.”