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.”
The 12-year-old and a group of her Facebook friends went around her Walnut neighborhood last Saturday asking for donations for Haiti orphans. The group collected 89 cans of food in two hours, she said.
The group plans to do the same this weekend and weekly until December, she said.
The food donated will go to Operation DREAM, an organization with a mission to feed poor, orphan children in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The charity’s goal is to raise 10,000 pounds of food by Dec. 31, Cassandra said.
The seventh grader said she got involved in collecting food for Operation DREAM last year, going door-to-door to ask for canned goods, dried beans and rice. She said she was moved by the family of four who started the organization after a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009.
“When some houses didn’t open the door, I learned patience, perseverance, and endurance; when some people were not that friendly, I learned how to forgive,” Cassandra said of her experience last year. “Yet most of the people I met were gentle, generous, enthusiastic, and ready to give to the hungry and needy children. I also learned to be grateful for what I have, for orphanages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic have to worry whether they will get a next meal.”
This year, Cassandra plans to do the same, but on a larger scale, she said. She and her friends plan to go around neighborhoods in Walnut, Diamond Bar, San Dimas, West Covina, and Rowland Heights to ask for donations for canned food every Saturday.
“I have a vision to create a community where good character is encouraged and rewarded, and Operation DREAM is the perfect opportunity for me and my friends to develop character through helping people a world away,” she said. “I would also like to encourage our community to get involved in the life of others by giving a helping hand to those in need.”
Students looking to seeking ways to complete school-required community service hours can do so by collecting their own boxes with needed items such as canned meat, chicken, and fish, as well as peanut butter, oatmeal, pasta, rice, and beans, she said. The aim is to prepare 24-by-17-by-15 boxes.
The boxes are shipped to the Dominican Republic and Haiti with the rest of the Operation DREAM hunger relief shipment.
Anyone in the community wishing to donate food items can contact Cassandra by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Published @ Walnut Patch