Walnut Youths’ Can-Do Attitude Feeds Orphans
By Melanie C. Johnson
Cassandra Hsiao began her effort to collect canned good for orphanages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with four friends.
The young Walnut girl’s group soon grew to 10. That 10 turned into several packed cars.
Cassandra and her team, as she calls the other youth who braved going door to door in Walnut, West Covina, and Rowland Heights to ask for food donations, collected 550 pounds of canned and packaged goods that will be shipped to the two countries in early January by Operation DREAM, a charity that combats hunger.
“They are the ones who came out with me every Saturday just giving their time to the poor,” she said of the group. “They sacrificed their time to collect these cans.”
Besides experiencing a few slammed doors, Cassandra said she and the other children involved in the food drive also learned a valuable lesson about the power of youth to make a difference in their communities and the world.
That was the hope of the founders of Operation DREAM, specifically the brainchild behind the charity, 16-year-old Karin Olivo.
Karin, touched by television infomercials featuring starving children in Africa and other countries, told her parents she wanted to do something to help, said dad George Olivo. She started with a bake sale in 2009 where she raised $1,000. The family sent the money to an orphanage in Haiti, but that was not enough for Karin, who wanted to see those she was helping in person, Olivo said.
The Palos Verdes teen kept after her mom and dad for a year until they agreed to take the trip. Olivo’s parents immigrated to the United States from the neighboring Dominican Republic. After speaking with a cousin there, the family of four made plans for a visit to both countries and collected 800 pounds of clothing to give to those in need.
What they saw when they got there was worse than they imagined, Olivo said.
“We imagined the worst and it was worse than that,” said the FBI agent. “It really changed our lives.”
Karin said she was specifically drawn to Haiti after doing some research and finding out it was the poorest country in the world. Her father’s ties to the Dominican Republic and its proximity to Haiti made that country a natural fit as well for the charity.
“They are a lot like us and like me,” she said of the children she has met in the orphanages. “I love to help people in general and when I found out there was a direct connection through the cousins, I wanted to help.”
Karin has visited the two countries three times, including a few months after the 2010 earthquake. She also goes to elementary and middle schools to talk to students about Operation DREAM.
On Saturday, the Olivo family came to Cassandra’s home to help the group pack their food into boxes for delivery. The group of children involved in the local effort and their parents bent over opened boxes searching for expired items. Shipments can be completely rejected if inspectors in the Dominican Republic find too many expired cans.
“This is what our vision was, to empower kids to help and then to go out and become leaders,” he said. “We believe those who give and those who receive will both be blessed.”
Posted on December 5, 2011, in Giving Back to the Community, News, Star Rapture Blog and tagged charity, Dominican Republic, Food Drive, Haiti, Hunger, Operation Dream, orphanages, Rowland Heights, Walnut Street, west covina. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.