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The City Journals

For Murray teenager, service is in the bag

Feb 13, 2020 03:02PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Miller Family Boys & Girls Club made over 600 meals for the homeless. (Photo courtesy Carissa Vera)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Kids at Murray’s Miller Family Boys & Girls Club are involved in a myriad of great activities, everything from arts and crafts to study skills to making great friendships. Carissa Vera, 16, took her membership in the club to a whole new level by organizing a project to provide over 600 meals to the homeless over the Christmas holidays.

Vera first came to the Miller Family Boys & Girls Club when she was in seventh grade. Her mom decided that she needed a place to go after school that was safe, fun, and inviting. She has embraced the club ideals and now serves as president of its leadership group, Keystone.

“This year, our group has raised over a thousand dollars for our club, been able to serve others for a total of more than 200 service hours, and have even held a community-wide anti-bully rally,” Vera said. “I have also been honored with the title of The Miller Family Boys & Girls Club’s 2020 Youth of the Year.”

The Murray High student remains as committed to school as to the club. She is part of Murray District’s Dual Immersion Program and is the sophomore class vice president. Her involvement in these positions has exposed her to witnessing other people in need.  

“One experience that really stood out to me occurred December of 2018. Some other youth at the Boys & Girls Club, as well as myself, were able to make 10 loaves worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some homeless folk at the Family Road Home shelter in Midvale,” Vera said. “It was crazy to me that the only thing that those people needed around the holidays was some food to eat. The following winter, I wanted to do more than make 10 loaves worth of sandwiches; I wanted to feed hundreds of people. So, I set a goal to give 300 homeless people a meal and a Christmas card. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but it was going to get done.”

After talking it over with Teen Director at the Miller Family Club, Jillian Orr, they made a list of all the supplies they would need. Vera then reached out to businesses and contacted Edwin Matamoros, a manager at Jordan Landing’s Nike Outlet. He quickly emailed back and said that the company would love to donate supplies as well as send a few of their employees to help make it happen. She codenamed the operation “The Paper Bag Project.”

According to Vera, “The project went better than planned. We had 50 volunteers show up on the day of our project and had an additional 30 people create some of the Christmas cards in advance. Over the course of two hours, we were able to make over 600 paper bag lunches (double the amount that we initially planned for) and an additional 150 sandwiches.

“Then, it was time to hit the streets. Four Boys & Girls Clubs… came together to pass out these paper bag lunches downtown. We passed out 100 bags to different individuals before donating the rest to Midvale’s family homeless shelter/Road Home.”

Vera already has been awarded a scholarship from the Boys & Girls Club. She remains passionate about service, and later this year, she will be doing a cultural exchange with kids from Mali, Africa. She also hopes to make the Paper Bag Project an annual event and apply what she has learned from it.

“After the project, I felt better than I ever had. It was so humbling to see the relief and joy that came from what we would deem as a basic lunch. We fed over 600 people that day. People who never know where their next meal is coming from. It truly was eye-opening.”