Local girls set sights on beating summer hunger

Olivia Brinkley, 14, (right) and Rachael Cail, 13, sort food items for the Matthews HELP Center. The girls collected 917 goods through their food drive. Photo courtesy of Cindy Brinkley

Olivia Brinkley, 14, (right) and Rachael Cail, 13, sort food items for the Matthews HELP Center. The girls collected 917 goods through their food drive. Photo courtesy of Cindy Brinkley

There are a whopping 2.3 million Girl Scouts in the United States today, according to the Girl Scouts of USA official website. That’s a lot of cookies being sold – but it’s even more help for local communities.

Providence High School’s Olivia Brinkley, 14, and Rachael Cail, 13, can attest to that themselves after collecting 917 food items for the Matthews HELP Center last month. When many teenagers were planning how to spend their summer and counting down the last days of school, Olivia and Rachael were striving to collect as much food as possible for those in need.

Summer is a difficult time for many food banks, including the Matthews HELP Center, as many people overlook the need to donate to the pantry, the girls said.

“I learned there’s a lot more financial problems and families that need help in our area than I thought,” Olivia said. “I’m really glad we got to help during the summer, when they need it the most.”

The girls arranged the food drive at Elizabeth Lane Elementary School, their former school, as part of their work toward earning the Girl Scouts Silver Award. The award is the second-highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, but the girls’ goal was far larger than just receiving recognition from their troop and community.

“When you think food drives, you think holidays (like) Thanksgiving, Christmas,” Cindy Brinkley, Olivia’s mother, said. “You don’t really think summer.”

Hunger issues do not subside during the warmer months until people feel generous again, according to the statistics at www.nc.nokidhungry.org. More than one in four children in North Carolina “struggle with hunger” according to the website, and the issue can become even worse for school-age children who do not have the same access to federally paid school breakfasts and lunches during the summer as they do while class is in session.

Olivia and Rachael decided to make a food drive the focus of their project after realizing how serious the issue of hunger is in the local community, and partnered with Matthews HELP Center and Elizabeth Lane Elementary for the event.

“Their dedication to it was amazing,” Jess Nicolson, social services assistant for the Matthews HELP Center, said. “The girls did so many things to get the word out. They sent flyers home with the kids, they had announcements on the school intercom. I know they’re working toward their Girl Scout service award, but they clearly had a passion for it.”

The parents of the girls are equally impressed by their hard work, they said.

“Completing these projects really brings [the girls] an understanding of how to be a good leader,” Edy Cail, Rachael’s mother, said. “I really think it will carry through their lives.”

The rising freshmen were able to achieve their feat in great part due to the generosity of the faculty and families of Elizabeth Lane Elementary, who supported the drive. In particular, Principal Tara Sullivan was an enthusiastic supporter of the girls and said  they did “an outstanding job of organizing and facilitating this event.”

In spite of the hectic schedule that surrounds the final week of classes, Sullivan supported the food drive and enabled the girls to pass out flyers and host an ice cream sundae party for the class that contributed the most food items to the drive.

While raising such an abundance of food is undoubtedly helpful for those in the community in need, help can start with even the smallest of gestures, the girls want to remind people.

“Help out as much as you can,” Rachael urges. “If you have extra food that you know you’re not going to eat, you should give it to the people who can use it.”

Those interested in arranging a food drive or volunteering at the Matthews HELP Center can contact Jess Nicolson at 704-847-8383, ext. 226. The center is currently low on pasta products, canned chicken, grits, oatmeal and peanut butter. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsors a free summer meals program for children in need. Text FoodNC to 877-877 or call 1-866-3HUNGRY to find a meal site near you.

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