Students are stepping up and out in the community to make the season even brighter for locals in need.
“I applied for the position because I’ve always had a passion for helping the less fortunate,” says Anya Kroytor about her position as the Hunger & Homelessness Volunteer Coordinator for Volunteer UCF. Now a junior at the University of Central Florida, she began her volunteering efforts in high school and continued to give back once she entered college.
While the Hunger & Homelessness group does not hold any events in December due to exams and the holiday break, they held their largest event, the 16th Annual Hunger Banquet, in November. Kroytor hopes the banquet raised further awareness for the homeless by inviting inspirational speakers who were or currently are homeless. Students were also encouraged to sign up to cook for and to feed the homeless along with nonprofit organizations during Thanksgiving.
The holiday season presents an even greater need for helping the homeless. “I feel like a lot of people focus on their family, and that’s when [the homeless] get left out,” says Kroytor.
Another student making her parents proud is Melissa Marquez, a junior at Timber Creek High School and committee chair of the BETA Club’s Operation: Santa Surprise. But this is one surprise you won’t want to keep to yourself. The operation, a committee branch from the BETA Club, is taking donations for underprivileged children. The BETA Club, a nonprofit service organization, enables members to learn leadership through service.
“Operation: Santa Surprise is all about the Christmas spirit of giving,” says Marquez. “I got involved with this committee because I admire that giving spirit and agree that these kids deserve to have presents this year. It’s not fair for them to suffer in a time of happiness.”
Marquez, who has been a member of the BETA Club for the past two years, says donated items include new and unwrapped toys, clothes and books for infants to teenagers. While the majority of gift requests come for children three to 12-years-old, the club also needs gifts for preteens and teens. And for teens, who may be more challenging to shop for, donating gift cards is also a good option.
Kroytor also plans to help others when she goes home to South Florida to celebrate the holidays. “I’m going to help out with this big Christmas event in Miami called Stop Hunger,” she says. She feels that everyone at universities is so focused on future and academics that they often forget about the people around them. Expanding horizons can give students the opportunity to make a difference.
For Timber Creek’s surprise operation, their BETA Club is sponsoring groups from Bithlo Head Start and Bithlo-Christmas Neighborhood Center for Families this year. “If you’re a parent, these kids go to school with your children. If you’re a child, your best friend could be one of the people getting gifts from us,” says Marquez. “They won’t know who donated the gifts, but I can guarantee you it’s worth seeing their smiles and tears of happiness when they realize there’s still kindness and hope in rough times.”
Donations can be dropped off at the school’s front office or library until December 10. “And as a club, we’re reaching out to the community and asking them to help us help them,” says Marquez. “Everybody deserves a good Christmas, and these kids are no exception.”
Article by Aimee Hoyt