News Story

Hundreds of Southern California Teens Gather to Help the Hungry

Nearly 400 hundred teens from 50 high schools gathered at a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Aliso Viejo, California, on Saturday, April 29, 2023, to assemble 50,000 packets of instant oatmeal for people in need.

The project was sponsored by JustServe (a free, Church-created community service platform) as part of Global Youth Service Day, an initiative sponsored by Youth Service America (YSA). Funding came from YSA, the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, The Habit Burger Grill and other private donors. Harvest Pack, a nonprofit focused on hunger relief, provided tools and food supplies to prepare the meals.

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“I think it’s really cool to help other people in need that can’t do it for themselves,” said Myles McBride, a sophomore.

The youth filled the gym of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building where assembly lines were set up and instructions given on how to assemble the fortified instant oatmeal packages that included oatmeal, sugar, cinnamon and vitamins.

“Everyone is smiling,” said Daniella Pierce. “Just put on some music and we are ready to work.”

“I like giving back to the community, and [I] do as much as I can,” said Alex Wallace, who heard about the event at his private Catholic school.

“[This project] encouraged me to meet and talk with a lot of people I would never have talked to,” said Mallory Keller. “It forced me to meet people.”

Henry Wade recently learned about food insecurity in his AP World History class. “I was looking for a community service opportunity,” he said. He learned about JustServe and the project when he had a substitute teacher who was a JustServe representative. Now he is looking forward to being a founding member of a JustServe Club at his high school next year.

Sophomore Isabel Phelps, co-president of a JustServe club in Irvine, California, said her club has monthly service activities. “It’s a good opportunity to be with friends and help the community,” she said. Tess Darby, a club leader in Orange County, added that JustServe clubs “provide so many opportunities for service that no other club does.”

Debbie Taylor, a JustServe director who helps high schools start service clubs, said that when teens serve, they develop greater empathy, compassion and self-worth. She has seen the joy and happiness they find when they are serving.

“This is a great generation,” said Kristin Samuelian, a Church communications director in the Newport Beach area. “Youth thrive on connection. When you offer them opportunities to give back, they show up in record numbers.”

“I was amazed at the number of youths that participated and the level of excitement to serve,” said Bruce Ghent, a JustServe specialist in the North America West Area.

Elder Mark A. Mortensen, an Area Seventy, said JustServe high school clubs have seen significant growth in recent years.

“We started with just a few high schools, but when others heard what was happening, they wanted to be a part of it,” Elder Mortensen said. “We now have 26 high school clubs established [in the area] involving thousands of youths, with many more getting ready to begin this fall. It is miraculous to see the blessings that flow as we show our love for [God] by serving and loving our neighbors.”

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