Teenagers in Chandler, Arizona, wanted to set the bar high for their service project, so they set a goal of gathering 1,000 hygiene items for people experiencing homelessness.
They ended up collecting more than ten times that amount — 10,773 items to benefit AZCEND, a nonprofit organization in their area. They gathered toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, combs, brushes, deodorant, soap and more.
“I never imagined we’d get as much as we did,” said Todd Applegate, age 18, who was recently called to the France Paris Mission and began home Missionary Training Center studies this week.
Using JustServe.org — a website and app which connects volunteers with service opportunities — the youth of the Chandler Arizona West Stake led a 30-day drive leading up to Christmas 2021.
And those donations — plus the lessons learned — are still blessing lives today. AZCEND was able to give many of the donations to the city of Chandler for a travel shower trailer. And Applegate said he knows what he learned from the donation drive will help him on his mission.
“Not only was I serving, but I set a goal for myself and put in considerable time and effort to surpass that goal,” he said. “I realized that I wasn’t supposed to rely on myself, but rely on the Lord and His plan.”
Read more: ‘It just always brings me joy’: How youth and young adults are using JustServe, from high school clubs to service projects
Engaging neighbors and the community
The stake youth leadership council helped brainstorm ways to host the donation drive and engage members of the community, local schools and businesses.
For example, some of the young women wanted to go Christmas caroling together. They decided to go as a group at the home of anyone making a donation and sing to them when they picked up the items, said Robin Finlinson, a JustServe specialist for the Chandler area.
Finlinson said the girls asked fellow Church members to tell their neighbors, and several of those neighbors were happy to be both serenaded and involved in service. They also said they were glad to learn of JustServe.
Finlinson followed the invitation of her ward’s youth to invite her neighbors. “Inviting neighbors to serve with us is a remarkably effective and fun way to foster harmony wherever we live,” she said. “And the effects are sometimes farther-reaching than we’d imagine.”
One of Finlinson’s neighbors and her daughter frequently assist local nonprofits. But the two 17-year-old exchange students they were hosting at the time, from Norway and the Netherlands, were not as familiar with such a culture of service. “They were thrilled for the chance to participate” in the donation drive, she said.
“They were first-hand witnesses to a generous free-will offering, and learned what it feels like to volunteer. They have since returned to their home countries with that knowledge,” Finlinson said.
Other youth used different ways to engage the community, and invited businesses. A dentistry practice donated many dental hygiene items for example.
Applegate and his co-chair Talia Green, 17, told their classmates at school about the donation drive. Applegate presented the idea at a general National Honor Society meeting.
“I didn’t expect the students to be so generous but by the time I came to collect the items, they were falling off the counter in the NHS supervisor’s room. It took several loads to get them to my car,” he said. About half of the 2,558 items he and Green collected came from the school.
Doing good is contagious
Members of the stake donated money, and Applegate and Green went to the store to buy more hygiene items. Applegate said another shopper noticed their shopping cart and asked them about it. She then opened her wallet and gave them all the cash she had on her, in order for them to buy more.
“In that moment, I realized what an impact doing good can have. It’s contagious. People want to do good, they just need to know where to look,” said Applegate.
Green and another young woman from the Chandler West Stake, Emily Chase, 17, said they learned that people are willing to help if they are asked. Green and Chase said some of the keys to success in a donation drive like this one include making it easy for volunteers with busy lives to participate, and remember that the Lord magnifies earnest efforts.
The donation drive took a lot of work, with several hours of promotion, collecting and shopping, but Applegate said he will never forget how all that hard work paid off — and the help he received.
“As I followed the Spirit, the Lord would lead me to those who could help me and He did. The same is true for my mission,” he said. “As I set goals, I need to remember the Lord and His plan for me and follow his plan to achieve the best outcome.”