MASON -- When officers of HOPE, a service club at Mason High School, began organizing and leading an initiative called “Make A Difference Week,” they knew that wanted to make a huge impact.
Along with their teacher Nicole Paxton, HOPE (Helpers of People Everywhere) members discussed stocking the shelves of the Mason Food Pantry.
But then they found out that although food is always needed, what’s even more urgent are items no one ever thinks about: hygiene products.
“Everyone donates canned foods, pasta boxes and jars of peanut butter. But people need shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, body and face washes and hand sanitizer,” said Rujul Singh, 17, a senior and one of the six officers of HOPE.
“We live in an upper-middle-class community, but we have many people who are struggling.”
HOPE is setting aside the week of Oct. 17-21 to urge the entire school to fill donation boxes with hygiene products. Posters advertising the event have been spread all over the school and community.
HOPE will accept monetary donations, too, and is appealing to the holiday spirit in the community.
“As winter comes, there is a dire need for these products. Families are often moved to tears because they need stuff and cannot get them,” said Rishi Mehta, 16, a junior and a HOPE officer. “It’s going to make a tremendous difference.”
In the video presentation for HOPE, Gina Brown, director of the Mason Food Pantry, said it serves “families just like us.”
“You wouldn’t think that in an affluent suburb like Mason, there are people who use the food pantry. But many families who use it once or twice a month tell us that if it wasn’t for this pantry, they don’t know what they would do,” said Brown.
They come for many reasons – because they have lost a job; can barely afford their bills; have had financial setbacks following car accidents; are victims of domestic violence; or are senior citizens on a limited income who have to choose between food or medicine. Sometimes they are refugees or undocumented immigrants.
Brown estimated that at least 500 to 700 families use the food pantry monthly. She said support and donations – both monetary and products – from individuals, families, churches and local businesses keep them afloat.
For example, businesses in the community display collection jars for the Mason Food Pantry near their registers and donate produce, pizzas and bread. They include Westshore Pizza, Kroger, Walmart and Panera Bread.
Shelves at the pantry are stocked like a small grocery store. There’s produce, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant products.
“We want to appeal to people to think outside the box when you donate. For example, on a government program, you may buy Mountain Dew but you cannot buy toilet paper,” said Brown, adding that seniors need Polident for their dentures, and there is a need for shaving cream and razors.
“These are the most needed and are the least donated,” she said.
Mehta and Singh said HOPE, an 11-year-old service club, is trying to raise at least $5,000 along with plenty of donated products.
“It’s our first time pioneering this event, but we hope it’s an activity that lasts for many years to come,” Mehta said.
The six officers of HOPE – Singh; Mehta; Sam Varner, 17; Kiersten Colligan, 18; Donna Zheng, 17; and Viswanath Namburi, 16 – and its 80 members are zealously promoting the drive in neighborhoods, through social media and by word of mouth. At Mason’s recent homecoming parade, they gave out posters and candy to raise awareness about it.
“It just feels amazing to do something to give back to our community,” Singh said.