At age 16, Milan Merchant not only has formed a federally certified nonprofit, but has developed a unique system for getting bottled water to homeless people.
And this year, the state certified him as a charity that donors can support and get a tax credit for their financial support.
A junior at McClintock High School and the son of Sarika and Birju Merchant, Milan started Project Hydration two years ago at first to solely get water to homeless people.
His original idea came to him as his parents were driving him to school.
“I would look around to see homeless people on the street corners and people waiting at the bus stops in the killer 115-degree weather,” he recalled. “I wondered how many of these people’s health and quality of life was affected by what seems so simple as receiving water.”
Right there and then, he said, “I knew I had to make a difference and I started to brainstorm ideas.”
Over time, Project Hydration has evolved.
“I partner with different businesses around the Valley who sponsor the mission and through this, I am able to distribute water bottles,” he explained. “My focus is more so on the distribution system to create a very effective and efficient way to get the water to the end-user rather than having to rely on shelters and other often bureaucratic processes.”
Milan, who is hoping to have a career in business and entrepreneurship, created “hydration stations” where the bottles are stored so people can simply take bottles and give them to those in need – and leave donations so he can buy more bottled water.
He also drops off water at various bus stops “on a consistent basis to ensure that those who need the water are able to receive it” and has put together care packages containing food, water, socks in the winter, and other essentials that he gives to different charities and food banks “that are able to distribute the packages to the homeless in a swift manner.”
To some degree, he takes a seasonal approach, focusing more on providing bottled water in the summer and more on care packages in the winter.
“We have distributed almost 1,000 care packages to food banks, to charities, and through our distribution systems, to the homeless during this winter alone,” Milan said, estimating that he has distributed more than 5,000 bottles of water since he started his project.
“We do indeed solicit cases of water,” Milan added. “Trader Joe’s donated 500 water bottles to our cause that we were able to then distribute. We come and pick up the bottles and will then distribute them in various ways to the homeless and the community.”
“The best way people can help the cause is by donating monetary funds, time, or supplies such as water bottles or non-perishables to be put in the care packages,” he said. “Volunteers can help with preparing packages and working with the hydration stations for the distribution of products.”
Milan said the pandemic “has both helped and hurt our efforts in different ways.”
While he has had fewer volunteers, he said, “I have been able to dedicate more time and effort to this project due to COVID.”
He also volunteers through his
membership in the National Honors Society and McClintock Key Club.
The former president of the student council in his freshman and sophomore years, Matt also is a member of student council this year and Model United Nations.