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Arizona Teens Use JustServe to Gather Almost 11,000 Hygiene Items for Charity

They enlist neighbors, local businesses and peers to help

Todd Applegate and Talia Green, on the front row in dark shirts, with neighbors and members of their ward show the thousands of hygiene items they collected for charity in Chandler, Arizona, in December 2021. Photo courtesy of Kalli Duncan, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

This story appears here courtesy of TheChurchNews.com. It is not for use by other media.


By Mary Richards, Church News

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 connecting 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.

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.”

Young women in the Chandler Arizona West Stake sing carols for neighbors and pick up donations to benefit ASCEND, a charity in their area, in December 2021. Photo courtesy of Kerry Finlinson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.


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.

Some of the young women decided to go as a group to the home of anyone making a donation and sing Christmas carols to them when they picked up the items. 

Robin Finlinson, a JustServe specialist for the Chandler area, 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.

Left to right: Frida, age 17, from Norway; Tatum Ditzler, age 11, from Chandler, Arizona; and Hannah, age 17, from the Netherlands hold some of the donations they collected for people experiencing homelessness in December 2021. Photo courtesy of Candace Ditzler, courtesy of Church News. All rights reserved.

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, like inviting local businesses to participate. A dentistry practice donated many dental hygiene items. 

Applegate and his co-chair, Talia Green, age 17, told their classmates at school about the donation drive. Applegate presented the idea at a 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 so they could 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, age 17, said they learned that people are willing to help if they are asked. They 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 remembering that the Lord magnifies earnest efforts.

The donation drive took a lot of work, including many 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. 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.”

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