As part of generationOn’s Make Your Mark on Hunger campaign, sponsored by C&S Wholesale Grocers, Points of Light is recognizing young changemakers who are helping to alleviate hunger and food insecurities in their community through service.
Lauryn Hinckley of Bismarck, North Dakota runs a peanut butter and jelly drive called “One Backpack at a Time” to support the United Way Backpack Program. She picked peanut butter and jelly because they are the most expensive items to include in backpack weekend meals. Over the past six years, she has worked with her community to increase the donations of peanut butter and jelly and continued to make her mark on hunger in her community.
Q: How did you first get involved in organizing service projects to help alleviate hunger?
Lauryn: I have seen hungry children standing in front of me with a grocery cart half full of food, and most of which had to be put back on the shelves because their mom didn’t have enough money to pay for it. The first time I saw it I was nine-years-old and I have never forgotten seeing this sad situation. One in five children ages 0-17 in my area live deal with food insecurity. For these children, the School Lunch Program is often their only source of regular nutritious meals. Almost thirty-five hundred elementary school students in my local school system qualify for free or reduced lunches. For this reason, I chose to talk to people about childhood hunger and how we can combat it “One Backpack At A Time.”
Q: Why have you focused on peanut butter and jelly?
Lauryn: My first year I did a snack drive. Everyone contributed a little bit of everything. I came to realize that after packing backpacks myself, that the organization preferred similar items to pack in the backpacks so that most kids got the same items in their backpack. Peanut butter is the most requested item because it is the most expensive item they put in backpacks. The program only had funding to put peanut butter in backpacks every couple of months if they were lucky. After talking to the administrator, I decided that doing a drive for peanut butter and jelly would be the best.
Q: How have you engaged local schools and members of the community?
Lauryn: I worked with a select few local businesses my first few years. Then, I was introduced to the community relations director of my local school system, who set me up to speak to local principals. This has worked great as a platform of school children working to help their classmates.
Q: What has been the impact of your food drives in the community?
Lauryn: The first year I started a food drive with 1 business and collected 100 lbs. of food. Last year, my 6th drive, grew to include 28 schools, 13 businesses, and numerous organizations. In 6 years, my community has helped me contribute 15,602 pounds of peanut butter and jelly, 3000 bags, and $9,837. The total estimated value has been $52,324 (equaling 13,002 meals).
Q: How have you spread the word about the importance of helping the hungry in your community?
Lauryn: I have spoken to larger audiences, including an audience of 250 at the State Igniting Legendary Leaders Conference and sat on the Basin Electric Hunger Panel speaking to business professionals. I’ve also done local outreach including radio and TV interviews, distributing fliers, talking to smaller groups and creating a blog for schools.
In addition, I have helped to combat hunger in different ways in addition to my drives. Over the summer I served lunch on Wednesday’s for the Summer Lunch Program. I have also helped to dig vegetables for the hungry from a 4-H garden, pack food baskets for the Open Your Heart Campaign, work food drives, and The Banquet that was established to feed the hungry. There, I set up, served, cleaned, baked bars, and visited with guests.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part about engaging other youth in volunteering with you?
Lauryn: My reward is knowing fewer kids are hungry in my community. Being involved is life changing. One small act of kindness can change someone’s life. My motivator is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy in first grade. The boy told a janitor he was so happy it was Monday morning so he could eat again after the weekend. The janitor signed him up for the “Backpack Program” which he knew about through my drive.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a Make Your Mark on Hunger grantee?
Lauryn: This has meant that my community can make a difference together. When children no longer need to worry about hunger they will be able to focus in school to absorb valuable education. The grant has led me to further my outreach in my community and touch the lives of the invisible faces hunger strikes.
Q: What advice would you give to other kids and teens who want to volunteer?
Lauryn: By living out the motto, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” I am constantly striving to be a good leader and set an example for those around me.
I have learned so much and so can others when one volunteers. I developed lifelong skills such as patience, good work ethic, time management, leadership, delegation, persistence, and public speaking. I cannot help but feel good when I help others, so other teens should join in.
To learn how you can Make Your Mark on Hunger, visit www.generationOn.org/hunger.