When it comes to birthdays, a lot of girls turning 11 would probably ask for Jack Rogers sandals, clothes or jewelry. But Olivia Gillespie is doing something different. For her upcoming party, she’s asking everyone to bring non-perishable food.
“I see a lot of kids in my grade go home without food,” Olivia said.
She wants to make sure that doesn’t occur. For the second year, Olivia is using her birthday celebration to help others through the Backpack Buddies program. The program, operated by First United Methodist Church, provides food to children from low-income families with the help of organizations and individuals.
The program came to Sampson County about six years ago. Children benefiting from the program are chosen by teachers and other professionals in the Clinton and Sampson County school systems.
Her mother, Anna, said she was excited during her last birthday party because of all the donations she received.
“Our whole dining room table was full,” Anna said. Two vehicles transported the food to Sunset Avenue last year. The task took about three hours.
“This year she said she wanted to do even more,” her mother said. “So hopefully we’ll be able to get more things.”
Olivia is turning 11 June 26, but her big party is scheduled for Sunday, July 13. The kitchen table is currently stacked with food. In a few weeks, her friends and families will add to it.
“When she brought it up again this year, I was really proud of her,” Anna said. “Turning 10 was a milestone birthday.”
At Sunset Avenue School, participants make backpacks to send home for the students over the weekend.
“A lot of kids have school meals during the week, but on the weekend, they may not have what they need,” Anna said.
Her parents are currently collecting donations at Sampson Community College. Anna is a math professor and her father, Perry, works in the Early Childhood Department at the college.
With the help of her family, food has also been collected through other locations and through solicitation of help on Facebook.
“That’s where all of the donations have come from so far,” Anna said.
Along with helping others, she enjoys playing soccer, dancing and playing piano. She also does mission work at Grove Park Baptist Church.
Olivia recently finished her last year at Sunset Avenue and will attend Sampson Middle School in the fall.
Jean Kunzman, the coordinator and local creator of Backpack Buddies, said she appreciates the work of the future middle-schooler.
“I think that’s wonderful,” Kunzman said. “That’s very unselfish of her to do that.”