Sweet 16 says no gifts, asks for donations instead

Sweet 16 says no gifts, asks for donations instead

sweet16girl-webVanessa Agovida is pictured at her Sweet 16 party Dec. 27 at Greate Bay Country Club, Somers Point. Instead of gifts, she asked for donations to Foor For the Poor, an interdenominational relief and development organization.

Vanessa Agovida of Linwood just celebrated her 16th birthday on Dec. 27. Instead of planning a big bash and receiving a pile of gifts, Vanessa wanted to make her sweet 16 even sweeter. And she wanted to do that, not for herself, but for others who have a greater need.

So, in lieu of presents, she asked her guests for cash donations to Food For The Poor.

“I realized I have a lot of things,” said Vanessa, just a few days after her birthday party. “I have a cell phone, I have a computer, I have an iPod, I have all these things I don’t need, and there are so many people who need a lot more.”

The 16-year-old heard about the millions around the world who are hungry and poor, and struggling to survive through Father Tony Palazzolo. He travels around the country speaking on behalf of Food For The Poor. He also travels with the organization, helping to lead mission trips and to personally help and minister to those who are poverty-stricken.

Several weeks ago, he visited St. Joseph’s Parish, Somers Point where Vanessa and her family are parishioners. Father Palazzolo’s homily inspired the teen and as she walked out of the church she said she couldn’t stop asking herself, “What can I do to make a difference? How can I help?”

“Your heart was touched by the Holy Spirit,” Father Palazzolo said to Vanessa in response to an e-mail she sent him inquiring about how she could help.”As I talked about extreme poverty in Haiti and Jamaica, you got the message, and acted on it. I am so very proud of you.”

Vanessa remembers the exact moment inside the church when she realized she had to help break the cycle of poverty.

“I remember the part of Father Tony’s homily when he told a story about the children looking at him in awe when he used a Band-Aid to patch up a child in one of the countries he was working in,” she said. “The children had never even seen a Band-Aid. Hearing all of this, I felt I have so much that I just take for granted.”

Vanessa didn’t take her guests’ gifts for granted. She hopes many children will benefit from her donation. She raised more than $1,000 for Food For The Poor that evening, and donations are still coming.

She also said she does not want to stop there. Vanessa plans on enlisting the help of her youth group, “Couples for Christ Youth for Family and Life,” to continue raising money for Food For The Poor and all those it serves, especially the children.

“Deep down,” the teen added, “this feels more rewarding than any gift I could have received.”

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the United States, feeds millions of hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. The interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance.

To support Vanessa Agovida’s effort, please make checks out to Food For The Poor, include code “SC# 70156” and your donations will be tracked to the teen’s initiative. All gifts are tax-deductible. For more information visit, www.foodforthepoor.org

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