A Simple Gesture Ashland Founders Make It Easy to Donate Food

Cynthia Whitty
Kaitlin Laughlin (Photo/supplied)
Issue Date: 
May, 2020
Article Body: 

Ashland High School students Armen Bazarian and Kaitlin Laughlin started A Simple Gesture Ashland in the fall of 2018 to keep the Ashland Food Pantry stocked with food and supplies.
Now that they are graduating, they will be choosing “two high school kids to take over in the fall.” Bazarian plans to attend UMass Amherst for engineering and Laughlin, Worcester State University for nursing.
“We have had a fantastic year, and the support we received from the community has been so great,” Bazarian said. “Our first collection day was March 23, 2019. We had just about 60 households donating food at that time. In April 2019 we became an official nonprofit 501(3)c organization. To date, we have had seven collection days, and we now have 130 houses/“food donors” that donate food. We collect about 1,200 pounds of food each time. We also have numerous volunteers who sign up as drivers to help pick up the food and others to help with the sorting at the community center. Our volunteers consist of high school kids, senior citizens, families with young kids, and even a Girl Scout troop. It’s been so great to meet all sorts of people willing to help out and support our organization and the Ashland community.”
Laughlin said, “My main motivation for doing this project is to help those in need in our community. This organization makes it so easy for people to donate, and everyone in town loves to help out, which is really nice. When Armen asked me if I was interested in starting A Simple Gesture with him in our town, I loved the idea and knew it would be a great opportunity.”
“From this project I have learned that it doesn’t take much to volunteer your time to help others. It is such a simple way to get out there and help our community whether it’s by donating, driving, or sorting. I’ve also learned that there are so many great people in our town who continuously tell us how much they love what we’re doing and how much it impacts the community, and we couldn’t do any of this without them.”
Continuing During a Pandemic
“Our most recent pick up was March 21, which happened to be right after social distancing began,” Bazarian said. “We weren’t really sure what to do but knew that the food pantry would definitely need the donations we usually supply. We decided to make a few changes and limit contact with one another. We did have some volunteer drivers pick up the food. However, we staggered drop off and did not get together to sort. After talking with the food pantry, we decided to just leave all of our donated bags without sorting. This seemed like the best way to keep in line with social distancing. We also encouraged our donors to donate supermarket gift cards. Although we did have a few people unable to donate this time around, understandably, we still collected over 100 bags of food and numerous grocery store gift cards. We even had a bunch of new households signing up to donate and other volunteers contacting us looking for ways to help in light of everything going on currently.”
At the present time, the food pantry is not taking food donations but is asking for store and restaurant gift cards and monetary donations to the Ashland Emergency Fund.
“Our next collection date is scheduled for May 9. We plan on collecting our blue bags as normal, but we asked for a monetary donation instead of food. We notified our donors by email asking for any type of donation—cash, check or grocery store gift card—in any amount. Checks can be made out to a Simple Gesture Ashland and the donations will collectively be given to the Ashland Emergency Fund. We understand a lot of people already made donations to AEF so we expect to get quite a few cancellations, but any little bit we are able to collect will be better than nothing.”
A resident may sign up online to participate in A Simple Gesture Ashland by visiting www.asimplegesture-ashland.org.
“This experience has encouraged me to become more engaged in volunteer opportunities through clubs at my school, and I hope to volunteer somehow throughout college and other ways after that,” Laughlin said.