You may be wondering why two regular girls would start a non-profit organization…this is our story.
Almost since we were able to walk, it has been a family tradition for us to deliver new toys to the Shriners Children’s Hospital during the holidays. Our parents have silly photos of us struggling to carrying large bags of new toys for donation. In the beginning of our gift giving days, we would cry because we didn’t understand why we had to leave some really cool toys at the hospital and not keep them for ourselves. Our parents taught us early on the importance of giving to others who are in tough situations or who are in need. Both of our parents have always had a soft spot for children’s charities, even before they had us. Flashing forward, during a normal annual holiday toy drop off, we witnessed a young girl with a large flat pallet filled with toy donations. We were both in 4th grade at the time. Out of curiosity we asked the young girl where she got the toys and she said she did a drive to collect the toys for the sick children in the hospital. This simple encounter sparked a conversation during the car ride home. We began asking questions about how the children in the hospital celebrate during other times of the years, in particular, what do the kids do in the hospital do on Valentines Day, which is one of our favorite days at school. We love Valentines Day at school because we get to make card holders and share special cards and grams with our classmates and friends. One of the fondest school memories is the experience of exchanging these items. Neither of us could imagine other children missing out on this memorable experience because they were stuck in the hospital away from their classmates and friends. It was during this car ride home that we decided that they were going to talk to our principal, Mr. Donovan, at Pleasant Grove Elementary School, to see if he would support our idea of a school wide collection of toys and handmade valentines. Immediately after Christmas vacation, we set up a meeting with Mr. Donovan and he loved our idea. We named our school drive the “Gift of Love” because we wanted to share love and kindness to others in need. So, this and this is how it all started.
Over the next several years, the drive gained in success, with support from the local Girl Scouts Troops, Creekside Christian Church, (formally the First Baptist Church of Elk Grove), along with other teachers from various local schools that joined in supporting our drive. We collected so many new toys and handmade valentines that they were able to benefit not only The Shriners Children’s Hospital but also shared valentines with Sutter Pediatrics and the Sacramento Children’s Receive Home. Given the Hospitals restrictions of no glitter material on the Valentines, we delivered the non-qualifying valentines to the local Veteran’s Hospital. This was a special treat because the VA hospital allowed us to personally deliver the glitter Valentines to the sick Veterans bedside at the Mather Field Location. (As a side note, delivering valentines to the Veteran’s hospital has become a favorite place of ours. The military men and women love to see us).
After we promoted from elementary school to junior high school, we wasted no time getting permission from Katherine Albiani’s Middle School (KAMS) activities director, Donna McNeel, to continue the Gift of Love drive. Along with the other organizations support, KAMS was also participating in the drive as well. Expanding our support really made us feel accomplished. Of important note was that we began to see our friends and fellow classmates began to share in the spirit of giving as we had. We witnessed other kids just like us want to give back and make a difference helping others too. Watching other children want to help those in need made us feel great. It made us realize that our simple idea to help others was growing and encouraging other people to do the same. We recognized that The Gift of Love was becoming something bigger than ourselves.
In 2016, given the continued success of the toys, handmade valentines and monetary donations received, we decided to take our drive to the next step (with the help of their parents of course) to create the Gift of Love Foundation, where we can better help local charities and also encourage other youths to participate in the spirit of giving back to others with the non-profit status. We found that people are more generous if they can receive a taxable donation. This also allowed us to solicit local businesses for monetary donations as well.
Currently, we are attending Pleasant Grove High School and have already formed the Gift of Love Club to continue our desire to encourage student philanthropy within our high school. Both of us are co-presidents of our school club. This year we are pleased to announce that we have several other elementary schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District who will be joining in our Valentines Day Drive. This is wonderful news and we look forward to having other children participate in giving!
To date, we have collected over 20,000 hand made valentines that have been distributed to local charities along with thousands of toys and monetary donations that have benefitted the Shriners Children’s Hospital, Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home, Sacramento Children’s Home, Sutter Pediatrics, The Northern California VA Hospital, and a local convalescent hospital. Currently it is our goal to continue to inspire the spirit of giving with kids like us and to expand our donation collection to benefit and make a difference in our community.
We have learned that there is no better feeling than getting others involved and making a difference, however small, to someone in need. It makes us feel good to put a smile across someone’s face too, especially when its unexpected. Some people say that we are so “kind, caring and generous…”. To this we say, we are just regular kids who wanted to make a difference in a few peoples lives.
If you would like more information on our charity or how you can help, please email us.
Thanks for reading our story,
Sierra & Ashleigh
The Gift of Love Foundation