Virginia natives Sydney and Hunter Guthrie are both approaching important milestones in their lives. Sydney, 17, is a high school senior filling out college applications that will determine where her life as an independent adult will begin. As a dually-enrolled student, she already completed her Associates’ Degree earlier this year. Hunter, 15, has recently received his learner’s permit and will get his license to drive soon. Both are members of their high school swim team, and Hunter has his eye on competing at the college level.
Volunteering has always been a priority for them. Sydney remembers Keira, their mom, taking her and a friend to pass out flowers at a senior home in third grade. Hunter remembers visiting Stop Hunger Now with his mother. It was on one such trip when a realization came to the Hunter.
“I saw a homeless person lugging around a very big and heavy sleeping bag. When I got home, I thought that there had to be a better, more efficient way to help them,” he recalled.
After a stint donating plastic grocery bags to be woven into mats for people faced with housing insecurity with the Lafayette Plarn Project, they decided to look for other ways to contribute. In 2022, they started bringing homemade baked goods to the Emory Rucker Community Shelter, and things took off from there.
“As my brother and I were doing that, the shelter started a policy where they didn’t turn anyone away, and we realized that we could do so much more. The need was greater than ever,” Sydney said.
A Taste of Home, Inc., was born, and the duo at the helm began negotiating with local restaurants for day-old items that would otherwise be thrown away or donated elsewhere. In just over a year, between restaurant goods and homemade contributions, the organization has donated more than 650,000 servings of food.
“They’re always first to volunteer, no questions asked, and it’s really nice,” said Saira Sufi, director of volunteer and community engagement at Cornerstones, the social services company that runs the Embry Rucker Shelter.
Multiple times a week, they pick up donations before 6:30 a.m. swim practices or at 9:30 p.m., after closing, and deliver them to the shelter, food pantries and local middle schools. Once, after an emergency 4 a.m. surgery, Hunter was unloading donations five hours later.
Saira is grateful for the level of commitment the Guthries have shown to their deliveries as well as to educating community members about housing and food insecurity. They inspire others to join the mission.
“I don’t think many people even in our area know that the shelter exists. It’s kind of tucked away, and not many people realize the need,” she mused. “They’re good at explaining [it] in a way that’s relatable and gets the job done.”
“I know that a lot of people, especially in the United States, are much less fortunate and don’t have secure access to food,” Hunter emphasized. “To be able to provide those people with a little bit of hope and food to get them by, to make them feel like they’re going to be okay […], makes me feel good.”
He and his sister have also raised more than $5,000 to purchase items requested by the shelter and have recruited more than 400 student volunteers through a system of credited service hours.
“We offer an extra hour if they go to the shelter and drop it off personally, because it’s a way for them to see that this is in their community. It’s real, and is happening right next door,” Sydney said.
One volunteer decided to bake because her uncle had once relied on help of the shelter, and she wanted to make sure others could get the same assistance.
“With someone’s help with food, her uncle was able to have a more stable life and get back on his feet,” Hunter added. “It gives people hope. There are people in the world who are looking out for them and want them to succeed.”
Both siblings emphasize the importance of doing anything you can to help those around you, regardless of the size of the gesture.
“There are no small acts of service,” Sydney said. “[Volunteering] helps us see things from different perspectives, and I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand that sometimes, you need others to be there for you, and sometimes you need to be there for others. This is their time to be there for others.”
There have been other positive effects, as well. Throughout the years, this amateur baker has taken her skills to a new level.
“I actually just made Whoopie Pies for the first time and they turned out perfectly! I still haven’t perfected my macaron, but I’m working on it,” Sydney laughed.
So, what’s next for this duo?
While Hunter will be taking on more responsibility within their organization, Sydney will be moving out. Following in her grandfather’s footsteps, she plans to continue working with her community by becoming a pediatrician and cites he and her grandmother as multiple-year blood donor volunteers and her personal inspiration.
“They were kindest, sweetest people who always felt they should give back to their community because the community was great to them,” she said. “And I’m really trying to do that and make them proud.”
Though Hunter isn’t set on a career path yet, he finds motivation in seeing Saira’s work.
“Her main focus is to make the world a better place and to help people less fortunate than her. It takes a lot to go full-time with that. It’s very selfless of her and very admirable,” he said.
As devoted to their community as they are, they will undoubtedly bring a taste of home with them wherever they choose to charge ahead.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sydney and Hunter? Find local volunteer opportunities.