TikTok influencer Isaiah Garza was once homeless. Now he gives back to people in need: "I was born to do this" – CBS News

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By David Begnaud
/ CBS News
Isaiah Garza has gained social media fame due to his random acts of kindness – like giving a stranger a new phone, or taking a 97-year-old World War II veteran to Disney.
Every day, he lends a helping hand to strangers, many of them homeless.
But it wasn’t long ago that Garza himself was struggling with poverty. At one point, he, too, was homeless.  
“I got kind of, like, obsessed with seeing people happy and seeing the reactions on people’s faces who, like, maybe live on the streets or are struggling. You know, because I myself am someone who struggled for so long,” Garza told CBS News.
Garza grew up in Washington state after his parents immigrated from Mexico. Life was hard from the beginning, and his family lost their home. 
“We had no money, and we had to sell everything,” he said.
They were living paycheck to paycheck. “And I was, like, ‘I’m gonna find a way to get outta here, and I’m going to save the day,'” Garza said. 
He eventually got a scholarship to go to fashion school in Los Angeles, but spent almost a year being homeless in the city’s downtown — using his car as a place to sleep and shower. 
Garza said those tough years enabled him to do what he does today. His experience gave him passion and drive, and a “weird energy” born from suffering.
“If I didn’t become homeless and struggle and suffer, I would have never have done what I’m doing today. It would have never have happened that way. There’s no chance,” Garza said. 
He also turned his suffering into a business as a well-renowned, celebrity-loved jewelry designer — and told people his story, without whitewashing it.
“I leaned into it, because that’s what makes, like, my story special in a way,” Garza said.  
He’s now garnered close to 10 million followers on social media. He doesn’t get paid for his acts by TikTok or any social media platform, but has been able to garner sponsorship deals with companies like KFC. He also raises funds through GoFundMe, and in some cases, uses his own money to give back.  
He hopes to build lifelong friendships and connections with people like the Gerardo family, surprising them – in one act of kindness – by buying their family Christmas presents. At the time, they had just moved to the United States and were struggling emotionally and financially. Their daughter has cerebral palsy. 
Since December, he has raised $36,00 for the family.
“My goal is ultimately to become one of the greatest philanthropists of my generation,” Garza said. “I want to build schools in third-world countries. And I wanna build my own shelter someday, or shelters.”
“I think that I was born to do this,” Garza  said. “And when you’re born to do something, you’re gonna do it until, like, the wheels fall off.”
David Begnaud is the lead national correspondent for “CBS Mornings” based in New York City.
First published on October 25, 2022 / 11:15 AM
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