United Movement Organized Kindness is a family operation. A friends operation.
It’s Friday, 3 p.m., and the charity’s founders are sitting around donated desks, brainstorming their next big project.
It could be a café, a community computer lab, a bike shop. Who knows what might happen? It could be a space station, they joke.
As of yet, the charity is none of these things, but its founders don’t rule out the possibilities.
“We aren’t isolating ourselves into one niche,” says founder Peter Politis. “We’re not just out there to feed the homeless or teach kids to read or just house the homeless or any of the other awesome mission statements that are out there. We want to do it all.”
UMOK’s headquarters is located in a warehouse, the old Reddy Ice factory on Main Street, just north of Washington Avenue. The space houses a thrift store, a community garden, a multipurpose space that is sometimes used for English classes, and a charity with a singular but all-encompassing vision. UMOK’s mission is broad but simple: They merely want to help.
“We facilitate cooperation, provide aid and advice to other nonprofits, groups and individuals that are dedicated to social justice and the protection of human rights,” Politis says, reciting the mission statement.
So far, its help has manifested in random acts of kindness.
They’ve fed the homeless, built a garden and lent hands to other organizations and people.
Politis, the driving force behind the project, sees a void in the community. Things are happening, he says, people are doing things, but too often he hears people cite lack of money as an obstacle to carrying out their dreams. That’s where he and his boundary-less operation come in.
“That’s what we do. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have opportunities, who don’t have these certain things, where we do. We have a large property, we have all these things just sitting here that can be utilized to help things progress.”
With friends and family, Politis has been quietly setting up shop for the past year and paying it forward from his off-the-beaten-path location. Their projects are random and, perhaps most important to UMOK’s beneficiaries, free.
Politis believes karma will make it work — each time he gives a service, someone will return the favor.
Recently, Politis and his crew have helped the Huntridge Foundation host a fundraiser at Blackbird Studios. Daniel Roberts, president of the foundation and a friend of Politis’, needed tables, chairs and decorations to make his event come together. UMOK lent what they had and helped Roberts make arrangements for anything the charity couldn’t provide.
“In a city that’s essentially rampant with apathetic individuals, Peter and the United Movement are very aware of what’s going on, and they’re here to help,” Roberts says. “It’s nice to have someone who will not only say they will help, but actually does help.”
That willingness to help out with anything has translated to helping a friend pull out concrete and take it to the dump, saving her thousands of dollars. The job was bigger and than they thought it would be, but they saw it through.
In return for the Huntridge job, Roberts donated household items to the thrift shop after he moved recently from this four-bedroom home. For the concrete job, the friend is an architect whom Politis hopes will consult for him in the future.
Even a pepper-picking visitor has contributed.
“I said, ‘If you’re picking my jalapeños, I don’t mind, but bring something.’ So she brought us a big bag of seeds. This lady doesn’t know me. I don’t know her, but she’s seen the garden and she’s here supporting.”
The project is experimental and relentlessly optimistic.
UMOK’s funding comes from its founding partners, plus thrift store sales like clothing, toiletries and furniture.
The group is awaiting a 501(c)3 tax-exempt designation, which is hopes to obtain from the IRS in February. In the meantime, it operates as a state-sanctioned charity.
To spread the word of its do-gooding, UMOK will debut to the public with an event called Main Street Fair (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 24-25), which will host locally made goods, such as clothing and jewelry. The Fremont Bike Clinic and Huntridge Foundation will participate, as well as various jewelry and arts and crafts venders. If all goes well, the group hopes to hold the craft fairs regularly.
In the longer run, Politis envisions his space as a multipurpose community center, with work spaces, a café, lounge and possibly retail, all under the umbrella of UMOK.
Why the name? Politis was inspired by the mob influence in Las Vegas. The Mafia had organized crime. Politis has a different concept.
“They did a lot of things they wanted to do with no one else’s approval. They got it done and they changed a city and influenced it a lot. I wanna take that and take it to a more positive realm. We call it ‘organized kindness.’”
With the street fair in place and his alliances with other local nonprofits, Politis is hopeful.
“We want to create a cool, cultural place that can go with all the other cool stuff that’s happening right now — the Arts District, downtown, Fremont East — a trifecta of culture.”