In the fall of 2009, when Jaylin Lee of Madison, Ind., was in kindergarten, her mother, Lindsy, read to her from the newspaper that the local Salvation Army was short of food for distribution to hungry families during the holiday season.
Jaylin’s first question was, “How can I help?”
Lindsy told her she could collect cans of food and suggested the slogan “One CAN Make a Difference.”
Jaylin loved the idea. Soon, with help from her parents, she was making flyers and traveling door to door to collect canned goods and other non-perishable food from neighbors. Before the year was out, Jaylin recruited 600 students from her elementary school to help with the food drive.
Today, just five years later, One CAN Make a Difference is one of the largest food drives in Madison. Twenty-six local businesses partner with the program—including five stores that put out food collection bins—along with 10 schools and several local churches. Jaylin, now 10, has recorded public service announcements that are played on two local radio stations and has addressed the city council and local schools about the problem of hunger in the community. In 2013, One CAN Make a Difference had its most successful year, collecting more than 6,000 food items.
Since she began the program, Jaylin has been joined in the effort by her sisters Jaymee, 8, and Jayda, 6. Lindsy says Jaylin works hundreds of hours each year on the project, and her sisters are now volunteering about half as much time.
“My sisters have been a great help,” says Jaylin. “Without them, I couldn’t do most of this stuff.”
“I’ve tried to teach my children by example,” says Lindsy, who serves on the board of the local United Way. “It’s a blessing to have kids who really get it.”
Most of the food collected by One CAN Make a Difference is stored at the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army prepares some at its own kitchen, where it serves almost 400 meals each week. The rest is distributed to food banks, shelters, and local churches with meal programs.
Jaylin, a 4th-grade honor student, stays busy year-round with One CAN Make a Difference, but the group’s main drive takes place for five days each November, and is kicked off at Madison’s annual Soup, Stew, Chili, and Brew festival—a cooking and cider-making competition. The even draws around 2,000 local residents, many of whom bring food donations.
“It feels good to see what Jaylin and her sisters have done,” says Jaylin’s father, James, a local police officer. “I feel I was born to serve. I’ve given as a Marine and now as a police officer. This is their way, and they’ve definitely shown their love of community. They’re so compassionate and they want to help everyone.”
“I don’t want to see anyone go hungry,” says Jaylin. “When I help people, it’s like a light at the end of the tunnel, and it keeps getting brighter and brighter. Groups thank us and tell us they couldn’t fill their food pantries without our work. I want more people to understand that a little help can make a difference. If we all work together, the difference just keeps on growing.”