Caroline and Helen Otteni
Arlington sisters, Caroline and Helen, have been collecting peanut butter and jelly for AFAC for 5 years. This summer, the girls searched near and far to collect 678 jars! Read below to learn about their process and how they got started.
AFAC: How did you first hear about AFAC?
Caroline: I first heard about AFAC when my elementary school did a cereal drive. Around the same time I learned about “Family Night” at AFAC where we could come help bag food in advance for people who were coming to get groceries they needed. I participated in both events and since then, it seemed like I was always hearing about AFAC in school food drives, Scouting for Food, or at our church.
AFAC: What inspired you to start donating?
Caroline: We got inspired to donate our time from our parents, actually. They help with other charities in Arlington and Northern Virginia and have told us the importance of helping others who may be in need. We learned about the Backpack Buddies program and liked how something as simple as peanut butter and jelly could be such a huge help to kids who really were just like us. It didn’t seem fair that the time they spent at home relaxing and taking a break from school that they would have to worry about having something to eat.
Helen: The first year we dropped off our collection we saw a young girl standing outside with her mom. I had always heard people in Arlington needed food from AFAC but didn’t really know how real it was until I saw her standing there. It made us want to do it again the next summer. And then each year, after we’d get more than our goal, it just became fun!
AFAC: This is your 5th year doing this food drive. Can you tell us about how your process has grown over the years?
Caroline: Our first year we had a small goal of 50 jars. We were ages 9 and 7 and only passed out a few fliers to the neighbors on our street and a few family members. The second year we doubled our goal and ended up with 150. Each year after we just tried to add about 50 more jars. Because this was our 5th year, we decided on a goal of 500, so 100 in honor of every year we had done this. But then because it was a special anniversary year, we just added another 150 for the heck of it! The year before we had collected over 500 jars which was 100 over the original goal, so we knew we could do that again. We needed a challenge. I think our mom was a little shocked about the aggressive goal.
Each year we worry about how we’ll achieve it. And each year we ride our bikes all over the neighborhood and pass out more fliers, email our family, friends and parents friends, set up a collection box at our dad’s office, ask our teammates and coaches. We also make it easier for them to donate. The first year we just had a bin at our front door. Now we tell them they can drop at our house, we can pick it up, they can give us cash or check for us to purchase for them or, the most popular method now, they can order through Amazon.
AFAC: How does Amazon help you collect food?
Caroline: Two years ago a family member sent their contribution through Amazon Prime so they wouldn’t have to pay for shipping on such a heavy package. We thought that would be a great way for family and friends outside of Arlington to help us. It has really helped us expand our audience and now we have friends and family from all over the country supporting us AND our community even though they don’t live here! We even had a friend from Spain send an order through Amazon!
Helen: Amazon is a huge factor in our collection now. We can reach out to friends and relatives that don’t live close to us and they can still support us with just a click online. Even people who live close to us use Amazon to donate because they don’t have to go to the store or take the time to drop off at our house. It is fast and easy! And Amazon is so nice! Once we received a broken jar of jelly and they shipped us another dozen to replace it! So we ended up with an extra 11 jars from Amazon itself!!
AFAC: How else are you involved in your community?
Caroline: We always participate in food drives at our schools and church. Donating food is always so easy! We also participate and volunteer at a local swim-a-thon that helps the Marjorie Hughes Fund, another local charity that focuses on school children in Arlington. Our parents are supporters of the Arlington Free Clinic and The March of Dimes so we help there if we can by going to events and supporting them. On weekends during the school year I volunteer for Adaptive Aquatics which helps people with physical and mental challenges learn to swim.
Helen: My soccer team has helped collect coats and warm clothes for people participating in a program at Doorways for Women and Families. There are so many ways you can help in Arlington!
AFAC: What would you tell others who aren’t sure how to get involved with AFAC (or in their community as a whole)?
Caroline: Even if it’s a small effort, it always counts and will go a long way. You never know if it will grow into something bigger and how it will make a difference in your own life!
Helen: It’s simple. You just do a little research on the computer or in your neighborhood and BAM – you’ll have projects galore! I know I will never look at a jar of peanut butter in the same way ever again.
AFAC: How else do you spend your summers when you’re not collecting peanut butter & jelly?
Helen: We both are on a summer swim team and so we are here all of June and July which makes it easy to collect PB&J! If we aren’t swimming or counting PB&J jars, we’re playing soccer or tennis or hanging out with friends.
AFAC: Last year your goal was 400 jars, this year it was 650. What’s your PB&J goal for Summer 2017?
Caroline: We really were happy to meet our goal this year! Who knows, maybe we will really go big next year and try for 1000. We’ll have to really think about this!
Helen: Of course that means we’ll have to think of more ways to get more people to donate. We’ll have to get creative for sure.
AFAC: Anything else you want to tell the AFAC community?
Caroline: I want to thank everyone who helped us reach our goal and encourage everyone in Arlington to donate to AFAC. It’s so easy and you can always find an AFAC bin at your grocery store, church, school or even library! Every box and can adds up! Trust us…we have people who donate two jars or some that donate a dozen. In the end it doesn’t matter how much you can give, it’s just that you do.
Helen: Something small in your community can make a huge difference. Try it!