How do you help members of your community when you have to maintain a six-foot distance? For Austin Preparatory School student Will Burns, the answer was a simple one: a Venmo fundraiser.
“I came up with the idea because of the volunteer hours I have to do for Austin Prep. I was thinking of ways to get those hours while COVID was going on. Then my mom and I thought of the idea of doing a fundraiser because I couldn’t volunteer in any places because of COVID. My mom has donated to The Reading Food Pantry in the past and came up with the idea to run a gift card drive to help them out with the families they support,” said 11th grader Will Burns.
Burns found that Venmo, the popular peer-to-peer payment app, offered the perfect way to consolidate donations for The Reading Food Pantry.
“Almost everybody has Venmo, so it was easy for people to quickly send money to help out our fundraiser. We also had a few drop-offs of gift cards at our house, and I picked up a few donations at people’s houses too. I told people I will do whatever was easiest for them,” said Burns.
With all his donations in one place, Burns then purchased the Market Basket gift cards. Patrons of The Reading Food Pantry will use the cards to buy perishable items as well as household and beauty products that they would not be otherwise able to purchase using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“We were able to donate a total of $1,735. We had 64 cards with $25 on them and nine cards with $15 on them,” said Burns. This is the largest gift card fundraiser that anyone has attempted on behalf of The Reading Food Pantry.
Austin Prep requires its high school students to complete 40 hours of community service over their four years. However, how the students choose to complete these hours is up to them, allowing them to focus on passionate issues. For Will, the issue of food insecurity stood out as one of the most pressing.
Founded in the 1980s, the Reading Food Pantry has long been a beacon of hope to Reading residents experiencing food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, the Food Pantry found itself filling the need of more people than ever before, as residents found themselves struck by the economic repercussions of a stagnant economy.
“We serve more than 120 families in Reading. Our roster has grown by about 20 percent over the past year. Many of our clients are elderly or disabled, and many are families with children. Some clients rely on us only occasionally – for others, we are their primary source of food,” said Reading Food Pantry Volunteer Michelle Faulkner.
Patrons of The Reading Food Pantry can visit up to twice a month, where they can consult a list of current offerings and check off what they need. Volunteers then fulfill the orders, bring the groceries out to the visitors’ cars, or, if patrons do not have access to transportation, to their homes.
“I hope when other kids read this, it may spark them to give back in some way. Even though we are young, we can make a big impact, and with this tough 2020 year, there are so many people in need. I am definitely going to do another fundraiser in the next few months as the Food Pantry needs all the help they can get,” said Burns.
Donations to The Reading Food Pantry can be made through their PayPal or mailing a check to 6 Salem Street, Reading, MA.