Guest Post from the Originator of the Take What You Need Projects – Katie North

A few weeks ago, Katie North came forward and commented on my Take What You Need – Vancouver post introducing herself and explaining how this whole Take What You Need phenomenon started. I followed up with Katie and asked her if she’d do an interview or blog post with me. Below is Katie’s story, in her own words:

Take What You Need – How it All Began

My name is Katie North and I’m from Dallas, Texas, but I just wrapped up my freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m a psychology major, and I am not quite sure what I want to do with that just yet. I know I want to be with people, to lend an ear and a hand to the joy and the pain that everyone wrestles with inside. I go to a great church and serve as a leader in an amazing Christian mentoring organization called Young Life. I love music, concerts, singing, and playing my guitar and ukulele (badly). You can usually find me in Austin drinking chocolate milkshakes, and listening to and telling stories with good friends outside. 

This part of my story began at the end of September 2011. As I was heading into class one afternoon, I received notice from a friend that a younger kid I knew in high school was having a dark time emotionally, so much so that he had tried to end his life. Thankfully, he survived, but the news still hit me hard. I willingly admit to having struggled in the past with depression, loneliness, sadness, and the desire for my life to simply end. It devastated me to know that other people, specifically my acquaintance from high school, felt that the darkness was too powerful for them. That they believed in the lie that there was no hope. I wrestled with big questions and powerful feelings that night, and eventually called up a friend to voice my thoughts. I told her that I wanted to be someone who helps people. She gave me the best advice I’ve ever received when she responded, “Then be it. Be someone who helps people.” I told her that I would.

After the phone call, I knew what I wanted to do. Notice boards are prevalent on college campuses, and UT is no exception; kids post flyers all the time for things like Spanish tutors, apartment renters, gadget repairs, and the like. Hundreds of people pass them every day, with advertisements blurring together in a sea of impersonal ploys for time, services, and objects. I wanted something bigger to be seen. I took six sheets of computer paper, a Sharpie, and some scissors, and created my own flyers. In the main space I wrote the words “Take What You Need.” On the pull strips, I wrote the words, “Love, Hope, Faith, Patience, Courage, Understanding, Peace, Passion, Healing, Strength, Beauty, Freedom.” On the back of each strip, I wrote a truth: “You are loved.” I chose these messages because these are things I need in my times of both darkness and light. We all need these things, and it is okay for us to take hold of them. It may not be as easy as taking a strip of paper from a sign every time, but sometimes, it is. I wanted to remind people that these things are true for everyone. We are not so different in our pain, and in our joy. And that is something beautiful.

I placed the very first poster on a notice board across from my dorm the same night I had that wonderful phone conversation with my friend. It was around one or two in the morning, and campus was quiet and peaceful. I returned to check on all of the signs the next afternoon, and most of the tabs were gone from all of them. Two posters were gone altogether. I was excited to have done something meaningful for at least a few people on my campus.
I had no idea that both the image and the idea would go viral. Within two or three days, a picture that a student had taken of one of my first signs had roughly 20,000 notes on Tumblr. I was absolutely floored. Over the next few months, I did Google searches of “Take What You Need” and have looked and read through countless blogs, posts, and comments about the sign. I love seeing what people would want to take. I love seeing other people’s renditions of the sign, and have seen some truly artistic and beautiful ones. I love knowing that these simple words can connect our hearts in ways that are so much bigger than age, race, gender, culture, or anything else. 

Photos of my original sign, as well as other people’s renditions of it, have been featured on popular websites like Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, WeHeartIt, iwastesomuchtime, Imgur, Reddit, and more. It has been shared by organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms (which is my personal favorite non-profit- the story is very close to my heart) which are dedicated to giving hope and help to people. I have seen signs written in German, French, Portuguese, and other languages I couldn’t quite figure out. My reaction when I see a new sign in a new place is usually the same, and it involves a near-heart attack from joy, some level of squealing, and usually tearful phone calls to friends. This thrill will never get old for me. 

Eight months and hundreds of thousands of posts, blogs, reblogs, websites, and comments later, “Take What You Need” projects and pictures are still going strong. That brings me immeasurable joy. The idea started out as mine, but really, it is everyone’s. The idea that there are things we need to take for ourselves to be well is simply true. I am humbled and in awe of the progress my one simple act of kindness has made, and am beyond thrilled to see where it continues to go. I have to admit, it is strange seeing my handwriting all over the internet. It’s a great kind of strange, though.
I don’t think I would do anything differently, except maybe hang around to see in person who would take what, and then start a conversation with them about it. These words are great and true words, but it’s the community that you get in acting out these words to people that really matters. 

One thing to “take away” from this experience is this: Know that these things that you need are true and real for you. It may not be so easy to let go of whatever you’re holding on to right now to take them, but they are there. You were meant for them. 

As for me, I’m living in celebration of the things that have happened to me so far. I celebrate the struggles and pain I’ve experienced, and the glorious people and wonderful God in my life who have helped lead me to hope and light. I celebrate Sharpies and friends who tell me to be someone who helps people. I celebrate people who need things. I celebrate people who take them. I celebrate everybody, around the world, who have seen some version of my sign, and I hope they have been given something to hold on to. I celebrate you, Lisa, and your friends, and anyone who reads this, for being a part of my story with me. I am so thankful.
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12 thoughts on “Guest Post from the Originator of the Take What You Need Projects – Katie North

  1. Nathalie (@VibeShifting) says:

    What a beautiful story… I found this page after someone at my Toastmaster’s meeting last night talked about seeing a “take what you need” sign in a house she was showing to some clients, and I thought it was one of the most inspirational things I’d ever heard. Thank you for sharing the story of how this phenomenon got started; it’s a reminder that even the smallest action, done in kindness, can have ripple effects beyond anything we could have ever imagined. And it’s a much-needed confirmation that there is still so much that is good in this world.

    • lvoisin says:

      Thanks so much! I’m so glad you found this page. It’s a great reminder for me to get back out there and post some more of these too, because it feels so good to do it!

  2. Diana Calabrese says:

    A beautiful story, I made a sign to hang at my desk! I wOrk for a social work program, so often I see people who need one of these items, and most often I need them too, mostly for myself and often to be able to help my customers, my families. I can’t wait to see the results. Thankyou for sharing your story.

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