OC teens and founders of The Give Back Group find inspiration and community in donating face masks and food in a time of great need.
Three hundred pounds of pasta may seem like a lot, even by COVID-hoarding standards. But for Sage Hill High School sophomores Ingrid Luo and Eleni Engelbrecht, it was just a fraction of what their charity was able to collect to feed hungry families in Orange County.
Besides the abundance of spaghetti, rigatoni, penne and bowtie pasta, The Give Back Group, made up of Luo, Engelbrecht and other Sage Hill students, managed to collect an impressive amount of ingredients through their food drive with OC-based non-profit Bracken’s Kitchen.
“Ultimately, we were able to collect … 31 gallons of chicken broth, 20 gallons of olive oil, 40 pounds of salt and pepper, 24 pounds of granulated garlic, 2 pounds of dried basil, 4 pounds of paprika and 95 pounds of other ingredients,” says Luo, who lives in Irvine. “We were pretty amazed by the generosity of people.”
The Give Back Group was formed in 2020 when the pandemic started, with the initial goal of getting PPE to the frontlines.
“Personally, my family did not have a single mask and we couldn’t find them in any store locally or online,” recalls Luo.
A family friend from the East Coast shipped some to Luo’s family, but when they heard about doctors and nurses reusing masks for days, they gave them all to friends who worked in hospitals.
“I started to think, as a student, what I could do to help,” Luo says.
She joined forces with her classmates to fundraise for more masks. Luo and Engelbrecht started a GoFundMe to raise money for their efforts and set out to spread the word.
“After we decided to create our GoFundMe and our mission, it was about reaching out to anyone who could help,” says Engelbrecht. “And people were surprisingly generous.”
The fundraising team was dubbed “The Masketeers” and the girls continuously promoted their progress by tracking and posting their mask donation activities on social media. They initially set a goal of $1,000 but during the summer of 2020, the group raised more than $6,000 and donated 13,155 masks to 19 hospitals, hospices, senior centers and schools.
“To be completely honest, we were pretty amazed that we were able to fundraise so much money,” says Luo.
Inspired by the success of their mask fundraiser, The Masketeers began their next initiative: a food drive to benefit Bracken’s Kitchen.
“After working on months of mask donations all summer and early fall, our group found out how passionate we really were about helping people, and we wanted to do more,” says Engelbrecht.
During the fall of 2020, The Masketeers renamed themselves The Give Back Group to conceptually incorporate their wider spread efforts, and began collecting ingredients for Bracken’s Kitchen. The group had a list of ingredients to collect and each team member began the food drive in their own neighborhood. Then the group expanded efforts to campus and beyond.
“We posted our food drive on social media, handing out the grocery paper bag with fliers attached, setting collection bins at the community center as well as the school campus,” says Luo. “We also created an Amazon shopping list for those who wished to help in a more convenient way.”
The team organized themselves into recipe groups and each group of four or five made goals to drive specific ingredients for each recipe.
“My group drove a recipe for rigatoni pasta,” says Engelbrecht, of Aliso Viejo. “Initially, we thought that only our parents and neighbors would donate, and we would only each drive around a box full of groceries. Boy, were we wrong!”
Groceries came flooding into their houses and they ended up with 300 pounds of pasta.
For Luo and Engelbrecht, implementing these charitable initiatives has been a way to connect with peers during a time when everyone has been so far apart physically.
“I am making new friends and having lots of fun from volunteering,” says Luo. “The more I do it, the more I want to do.”
And Engelbrecht agrees.
“The most rewarding thing is the feeling I get when I do service with this group. Not only does it allow me to do service throughout the pandemic, but working together as a group to create something great for other people really brings me joy.”
Luo and Engelbrecht, along with The Give Back Group, plan to initiate additional efforts in the coming months that include another mask fundraiser, a tutoring program, a performance program for seniors and hospice patients, and more. They also aspire to making the Bracken’s Kitchen Food Drive an annual event.
By Sarah Mosqueda