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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) - Local College Students Help Surprise Families in Need, 2012


Local college students help surprise families in need

Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 3:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 3:05 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH - With a stack of cans in her hands, Ally Perez-Brasa helped pack special Thanksgiving baskets with fellow students from Daytona State College for families in need.

The 19-year-old sophomore knows what it's like to need help. Her family received food and assistance with their electric bill from an agency in Crescent City five years ago when her dad was out of work and her mom had switched jobs. During the same time, she was burned during a kitchen fire while making pastries, and hospital bills for her family were mounting. She also had a brother serving in Afghanistan.

"It was a really hard year," she said, adding that the community also raised money to help her family with the medical bills. "It was really amazing."

This year she found a way to give back through the 14th Annual Basket Brigade, which is part of an international grass-roots movement. Locally, about 300 baskets were delivered to needy families over the weekend with canned goods and other fixings for the holiday as well as a gift card for families to purchase a turkey.

"I've always been one to give back. I feel I can change the world by doing little things," said Perez-Brasa, the executive vice president of Daytona State College's Student Government Association who wants to become a doctor and join the Peace Corps. "I know our economy is bad and people need the help to make sure they have a good Thanksgiving."

She was one of about 300 volunteers from area colleges, churches and other groups who participated in donating food, packing baskets and delivering the goodies to surprised families - many of whom did not know an agency submitted their name.

Daytona State College has been the drop-off and distribution site since the program started. Other area colleges including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Central Florida had students and staff donate food and deliver baskets.

Stetson University has a separate program called Stetson Shares and delivered about 90 Thanksgiving bags this year to area agencies from students, faculty and staff. Some students also knocked on doors in downtown DeLand and collected items from the community.

Bruce Cook, assistant dean of co-curricular activities of Daytona State College, said "it's a great experience for (students) to give back to their community."

"If our students learn this behavior now, they'll do it in the future," Cook said.

The Basket Brigade in Volusia County started through the Daytona Beach Advertising Federation in partnership with Daytona State.

Joetta Raylots, who was a past president of the federation, heard motivational speaker Anthony Robbins talk about his international basket brigade and took the idea to Daytona Beach.

"It's just been really magical," Raylots said. "It's just a bunch of strangers showing up in a parking lot on a Saturday morning. It's a real great way for the students to interact with the community."

Made out of laundry baskets, each one arrives with a note that says "This is a gift from someone that cares about you, all we ask is that you take care of yourself and to do this for someone else some day."

She has seen students who can barely make rent or buy their textbooks have their lives change by helping out.

"We are talking about generations and generations being changed," she said.

Jay Young, and his wife, Barbara, of Ormond Beach, took over the program from Raylots about 10 years ago, though Raylots was actively involved this year.

Young said originally 200 baskets were delivered and then it grew to more than 600 six years ago. But he said the economy the past couple of years has impacted donations.

All the volunteers and groups involved are what keep it going, he said.

"We've built up a grass-roots effort and it's not just Thanksgiving, but some people do things throughout the year," Young said.

Alicia Dove, president of the Student Government Association at Daytona State College, which helped pack the baskets, said it's "very important" for students to give back to the community considering many receive scholarships and other support.

So many families, she said, worry how they can feed their children and "to see their faces when they open the door is amazing."

SGA member John Chester, 21, a criminal justice major from Daytona Beach, said "it makes me feel amazing to help out. It feels good to help out others before myself."

Family Renew Community, a transitional living facility, received baskets for some of its residents in Daytona Beach and Holly Hill from the Basket Brigade and from Stetson University for its DeLand facility.

"It's such a neat thing and involves so many volunteers and donors and it provides such a wonderful thing for the families during Thanksgiving who would have nothing," said executive director Claris Mac'Kie.

Heather Hamilton, community organizer coordinator at Stetson's Center for Community Engagement, said the Stetson Shares program helps "empower the students" to "understand that they can make a difference even if it's just walking around to ask for canned goods or working together to deliver bags to different agencies."

Audriana Law, 20, a Stetson junior from Fort Lauderdale, said the food bags help "make it a little easier for families to eat on Thanksgiving and have a little less worry on their holiday."