A chance encounter with a homeless woman in need of feminine hygiene products led one Riverdale High School junior, Denean Park, on a crusade to distribute care packages to classmates who qualify for the ATLAS program.
Park originally discussed the idea with her mother and the two of them reached out Riverdale assistant principal Dr. Maryam Hill. Together, Hill and a school counselor talked about the growing needs of the district's homeless assistance program with Park and her mother
"It makes me feel great to know that there is someone in this building that cares greater than ourselves," Hill said. "I told her mom, ‘Thank you for raising such a child who thinks beyond herself and thinks bigger picture."
Hill added, "She's taken her personal money — kids work really hard for their money — to help other people."
Park, 16, is a native of San Bernardino, California. She transferred to Riverdale this fall and previously attended Eagleville prior to moving in with her mother.
"I didn't realize how many people were affected by poverty," Park wrote on Go Fund Me page. "I saw a void that needed to be filled within our community with a few simple items and a smile."
Park went on to explain that she hopes to continue her foundation — she's assembled more than 60 care packs — but admitted the "torch gets heavy to hold up alone" and is hoping others will feel the same passion to lend a helping hand.
In addition to accepting feminine products, toiletries and hand towels, a Go Fund Me account, which can be found by searching D's Care Packs, Park accepts donations through her PayPal account – firstname.lastname@example.org – or her Cash App: $dcarepack.
RCS: What led to the idea of developing this project?
I worked at Waffle House and one day a lady walked in and she had said, 'Do you have any sanitary napkins?' At that moment I was like, wow, that's crazy how people actually go through that, where they just don't have the things that they need. I ended up walking with her and a coworker to the gas station because I didn't want to just give her the money. We bought her the sanitary napkins and I bought her a few other things, like a toothbrush.
The next day, a (regular patron) walked in and she gave me three lottery tickets. It had $20 on two of them and then the other one had an extra ticket that I could get. I gave it to my mom, and we ended up buying a lot of material — toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, food — and then I was like, 'Hey, why don't I start a care package?'
RCS: What was her reaction?
She seemed very grateful. She actually was tearing up when I offered to go with her and, as of the moment, I don't think anyone really knows that I'm the person who gave it out, because I wasn't really trying to make my name in the paper and make my name go somewhere. I just wanted to help people because I just felt sad.
RCS: How did you settle on providing toiletries?
When we wake up in the morning, we kind of take for granted that we're going to go into the bathroom and there's toilet paper and there's toothpaste. I felt like I was even more sad, at the moment, to know people need those things, especially like girls growing up without sanitary napkins.
RCS: How are you raising funds?
We started a Go Fund Me (which can be found by searching D's Care Packs). We're trying to start other foundations and I have made about a hundred bags right now. I still have some at home, but I want to get those out and actually I want to spread this maybe to Rockvale High School and Blackman High School and see if they could help out with this. I feel like if I start off at a solid starting point then I can just build on it and then expand it and get where I have more supplies.
RCS: What would you say to your classmates who might see this and want to help or, perhaps, have an idea of their own?
I want them to know that everybody is not as fortunate to have such things and (you) can help just by giving the littlest of things and helping our community grow and help the poverty to go away.
PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT