DOVER — Holy Cross School student Rachel Mackie didn’t fully appreciate just how many donations she’d collected until it was time to haul them to the Code Purple House on Bradford Street in Dover.
“My mom has a minivan, and we had to make four trips with it packed all the way to the ceiling,” she said.
The seventh-grader was recently selected as one of two state honorees in the Top Volunteers of 2017 program held by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. She won a silver honorary medallion, $1,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington in May. There, she will join the top two honorees from each of the other states for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, she’ll have the opportunity to be placed among the top 10 students to be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2017. If selected for the national honor, she’ll be awarded a gold medallion and $5,000 to be distributed to the charity of her choice.
“If I win that, I’m definitely going to give it to Code Purple,” Rachel said enthusiastically.
Code Purple is a statewide organization that helps homeless people find shelter in churches and other designated buildings when the temperature plunges to 32 degrees or below.
Rachel said she’d never even heard of the organization until she and the Kent County 4-H Club to which she belongs were discussing the project that led to her volunteer efforts being recognized.
She was nominated by Kent County 4-H and was chosen as one of the state’s winners for spearheading an effort to collect more than 900 items for the homeless and helping to provide a fully decorated Christmas tree to the Code Purple House.
“We were entering a trim a Christmas tree contest where your club decorates a tree and puts it out in public to be judged and scored,” she said.
“Each tree has a theme, and we decided that ours would be community service. Someone in the club mentioned Code Purple and I thought it was a great idea.”
In addition to decorating the tree with community service-themed ornaments, the club decided to make the tree a piece of community service itself. Rachel obtained permission from Dynamic Physical Therapy to display the tree in one of their Dover locations, and also set up donation collection sites at four of their sites. Ms. Mackie also helped knit scarves as a garland for the tree and a winter hat topper that would also be donated. Every week, Rachel collected clothing, food and other supplies from the sites.
“Over the three months that I was going to the offices and collecting donations from the office sites, I got over 900,” she said.
Working with the Holy Cross School Knitting Club, she also helped knit 50 hats and scarves for Code Purple to distribute.
“I wrote a letter to Walmart and they gave us a money donation that helped us buy the knitting supplies,” said Rachel.
The Code Purple mission really hit home with her when she convinced Calvary Church in Dover to donate a Christmas tree to the Code Purple House and she went there to decorate it with homeless men and women.
“I started feeling really strongly about Code Purple the more I worked to help, especially when I was able to meet some of the homeless people that needed help,” she said.
Although pleased to have been selected as one of the state’s top volunteers, it’s more about helping the needy for Rachel. She plans on continuing her efforts.
“I like being able to help people and knowing that there are little things that I can do to affect them in a positive way,” she said. “I think community service is going to be a big part of my life. I’m just going to keep looking for opportunities to help.”
The other winner in the state was Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences senior Kayleigh Barnes. She was selected because she founded an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young women through mentoring and community service. It’s now made up of more than 120 young women in nine states.
A distinguished finalist from Clayton was also recognized. Smyrna High School senior Samantha Sawyer initiated an effort to buy and donate instruments to the Alfred I. duPont Children’s Hospital music therapy program by organizing a community benefit concert.
“Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities.”
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at email@example.com