Dover sisters in the running for national charity award

Reagan, left, and Payton Garnsey, each hold a bucket of toys that they collected for the Buckets Of Love. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — For Dover sisters Reagan and Payton Garnsey, kindness is instinctual.

Although surrounded by the influences of their parents, church and school, their devotion to community service seems fed by their own motivations. “Our parents always taught us to be kind, but I don’t think they did big community service projects when they were kids, or even as adults,” Reagan said.

“We’re encouraged that all of our friends and teachers at Holy Cross School give back to the community too, but I think it’s more personal for me and Payton,” she added.

Reagan and Payton’s mother, Angie Garnsey, agrees.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m just the driver,” she said, laughing. “Giving just seems like it’s in the fibers of who they are, it hasn’t been something that we’ve pushed or told them they needed to do. They just enjoy it. It comes naturally.”

Already prolific at the tender ages of 11 (Reagan) and 6 (Payton), they’re now getting some national attention. The duo’s charitable organization “Buckets of Love” has been selected to be among five national finalists for the Jefferson Award LEAD360 contest.

Buckets of Love is focused on collecting recycled icing buckets from Sam’s Club in Dover and filling them with goodies to distribute to children in local hospitals aged 2-12.

“I help shop for things and I help stuff the buckets,” Payton said. “We put in coloring books, crayons, markers, stuffed animals, games and crafts.”

Since starting in June 2017 the sisters have raised $3,000 to support the effort and have distributed 101 buckets.

When asked why, Reagan said she wants to cheer up kids who might be sad or scared while the await or receive medical treatment.

“I’ve never had to stay in the hospital overnight, but I’ve been in hospitals before,” Reagan said. “In there, despite all the bright paintings on the wall, it can be a sad place sometimes. We just wanted to bring some happiness to the kids in the hospital.”

The organization linked up with Bayhealth Medical Center and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in order to find kids in need, and the Garnsey sisters deliver their buckets to the sites personally.

Regardless of the outcome in the LEAD360 contest, the sisters seem intent on growing their effort.

“Right now they’re fundraising so they can stuff more buckets — each bucket has about $35 to $50 worth of things in them,” said Angie.

“We have to thank our friends, family and people in the community because it seems to be catching on and we’ve had a lot of peoples’ help. There was a Students In Action leadership conference last year in Seaford that Buckets of Love was the receiving charity for.

“Last year they had an event at 33 West (Ale House & Grill) and they were able to link up with a local Dover women’s group who donated $500 to their project.”

Angie noted that Holy Cross School has also assisted in fundraising. Earlier this week, students had a chance to donate money or an item to go into one of the buckets in exchange for the chance to wear those own clothes to school instead of the school uniform for a day.

As far as organization, Angie notes that her daughters were given a lot of help from Jefferson Awards Foundation’s Delaware coordinator Michele Fidance. The girls met her initially through the knitting club that Reagan started at her school — yet another one of her charitable exploits.

“When I was in second grade, I started the knitting club at Holy Cross,” she said. “There are 32 members now and we meet every two weeks to knit. We’ve made baskets and things for people in nursing homes and kids who have cancer and we do other projects to benefit people in the community.”

Reagan said her interest in community service started when she decided to open a lemonade stand one summer.

“When I was six, I was watching a TV show with a lemonade stand on it, and I though: ‘that would be fun,’” she said. “So when we were looking it up, Alex’s Lemonade stand came up and we thought it was perfect.”

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer is a fundraising organization that was started in Conneticut in 2000 by a four-year-old girl, Alexandra “Alex” Scott, diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Although she died in 2004, Alex’s foundation endured. Through the help of other children, like Reagan and Payton, the organization has gone on to raise over $1 million for childhood cancer research.

Their ages aside, Reagan said that continuing to help others will always play a big role in her and Payton’s life.

“Being raised to be kind and being able to help people has had a big impact on me and Payton,” she said. “In the future, I know that we’ll continue to help others.”

Award contest

The voting started for the five finalists on Monday and will run through Feb. 19. A winner will be announced on March 12. To vote for the sisters, visit lead360.jeffersonawards.org/ or search “Buckets of Love Foundation” on Facebook. One vote per Facebook account can be cast daily.

The LEAD360 competition starts with a contest for young people to submit their big ideas to solve problems they are most passionate about, says the foundation’s website. Submissions are expected to be simple, scalable and measurable.

The finalist who gets the most votes will receive a Jefferson Award and have their project “activated” nationwide. Having their idea activated means the Jefferson Awards Foundation will spread it throughout the country via its constituents and partners.

They’ll also win a trip from Rustic Pathways — an organization specializing in international community service, education and adventure programs for students.

The Jefferson Awards Foundation was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in hope of empowering others to have “maximum impact on the things they care about most through public service.”

For more information, visit: jeffersonawards.org/.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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