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Amanda Smothers calms her 2-year-old son Mason Snider by showing him a cartoon he loves on her cell phone at Signal Centers Monday, July 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Smothers enrolled her family in Baby University, and through Purposity, she will be receiving diapers for her son.

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Generosity with purpose: Website expanding to meet more needs of local residents

For Amanda Smothers, it was more than just a couple packs of diapers.

After recently fleeing domestic violence and settling in Chattanooga, Smothers has been working hard to get back on her feet, and she said having a stranger buy diapers for her 2-year-old son is a reminder people can be kind.

"What I've been through almost makes me want to give up hope in people," she said Monday. "But the diapers are another reminder there is good after so much bad."

Smothers is enrolled in Baby University, the city's program to help low-income parents, and through it her need for diapers was posted on Purposity, an online portal that connects individual donors with people in the community that have an immediate and verified need.

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For more information

To learn more about Purposity and sign up for mobile phone updates, visit www.purposity.com. Purposity asks for your phone number so you can receive updates about needs once a week via text message.

Whoever anonymously bought diapers for Smothers' son was just one of more than 350 people in Chattanooga who have used Purposity to meet the practical needs of their neighbors since the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the Maclellan Foundation and a few local visionaries brought Purposity here six months ago.

Philanthropy is evolving nationally, researchers say, especially with younger generations who want to know their giving is having an immediate impact and is more relational. Millennials are most likely to give when they feel inspired by an organization and can transparently see the impact their gift will make, according to the Millennial Impact Report, which collects and analyzes data on how U.S. millennials interact with causes.

Purposity is a reflection of that, as 40 percent of the about 470 needs that have been met through Purposity were by people under the age of 35.

The portal's name is intended to reflect purpose through generosity, and was not developed as a replacement for traditional giving and philanthropy or as a threat to foundations and nonprofits. But instead, Purposity is designed to give people another platform to do good with just a few clicks.

Blake Canterbury, Purposity's founder, said he hopes the portal will help make generosity a part of people's lifestyle. Purposity started in Atlanta before spreading to Chattanooga, and plans are underway to expand to cities like Birmingham, Ala., Nashville and Denver, Colo.

"Purposity is really designed for the everyday person who wants to do good, but may not feel like they have a lot of time," Canterbury said.

Alison Reedy, 30, has been using Purposity for months, appreciating how it allows her to meet tangible needs of people.

"I know there is so much need in the school system and students here, but I don't have kids and am not connected," Reedy said. "This changes that."

Scrolling through Purposity one night, Reedy read a short bio about a Guatemalan refugee who needed a white collared uniform shirt for school.

"I immediately remembered having a school dress code and wearing collared shirts," Reedy said last week. "I also remembered how important having nice clothes was in middle school."

Moved by the girl's story, Reedy purchased three shirts for her within minutes, feeling a connection to the student and understanding that she was doing more than buying $12 shirts — she was also giving confidence.

At first, Purposity was focused on connecting donors with the individual needs of Hamilton County students, as social workers and guidance counselors in schools would identify students who could use a little help. A brief story about the student's situation and need would be placed at Purposity.com, allowing people to scroll through and purchase specific things like uniforms, shoes and even mattresses through Amazon.

Purposity now has 984 users in Chattanooga and has expanded to also meet needs of people at local homeless shelters and child care centers, and it plans to keep growing.

In coming years, Cantenbury hopes the site will have thousands of users and be serving every pocket of poverty across the city.

In the first six months of Purposity in Chattanooga, people have logged on to find that all the needs were met. This was intentional, Cantenbury said, as organizers knew the needs existed, but wanted to see if there was a demand to give.

"Now we have that demand and can serve more people," he said. "So we are opening it up."

Shepherd's Arms Rescue Mission in Alton Park placed needs like coats and shoes on the site for about 30 homeless kids participating in its summer camp, and almost every item was purchased within hours and arrived in days.

"Purposity has tremendously helped us meet needs," said Mary Ann Sanders, who founded the Mission with her husband in 1995. She said the site provides another way for Shepherd's Arms to meet the needs of the people it serves.

"People really love to meet tangible needs instead of just sending money," she said. " and it brings joy to our folks who don't always have a lot of joy."

Maeghan Jones, president of the Community Foundation, said in today's world people are more connected to their cellphones and technology, but feel more disconnected from people — and sometimes divided — than ever before. Purposity is a tool combating this, as it allows people to reach out and connect with others.

"Philanthropy is way to bring people together, and I think people are craving it," Jones said. When people live more generously within their communities, it amplifies exchanges of trust and compassion, she added.

A generosity paradox also exists, Jones said, as both the donors and recipients experience better well-being.

Smothers said the gift of diapers was an encouragement, which in turn she wants to be to others. She is now working to get her GED, and in the future wants to help women who share her past.

"I now have a second chance," she said. "I want to help others get that too."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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