Jul 30, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
It all started when Adena Rochelson volunteered at a local food pantry. Rochelson, who was 9 years old at the time, noticed an empty shelf that was intended to hold personal care items, like toilet paper and soap.
She learned that most people who visit the food pantry are on food stamps, and because food stamps do not cover the cost of toiletries, Rochelson decided to do something about it.
Her allowance and birthday money were used to purchase personal care items to donate. She began asking to do extra chores around the house and returning bottles and cans to earn extra money to put towards giving back.
“When I was in fourth grade, I thought I could solve poverty and fix the problem, but I soon learned that I couldn’t do it all by myself,” said Rochelson, 15, who lives in Fayetteville. “So I talked to my fifth grade teacher and I did my first toiletry drive in my classroom. We collected 25 items, and I was very proud of it.”
From there, Rochelson began organizing more and more drives through the Fayetteville-Manlius schools, local churches and synagogues and other organizations. She reached out to companies that carry personal care items, like Wegmans and the Marietta Corporation, for donations. And in 2011, her organization, called Operation Soap Dish, became a registered non-profit.
“Most of Operation Soap Dish consists of me or other people doing drives,” she said. “But sometimes organizations will donate items too. And once I have the items, I count them and sort them, and then I deliver them to an organization.”
Rochelson said that she’s counted more than 23,000 items since she began her effort six years ago. Since then, she has donated personal care items to organizations, including: St. Lucy’s Food Pantry, the F-M Food Pantry, Sarah’s Guest House, Vera House, the Ronald McDonald House and more.
“Some kids go to soccer practice after school, and I go home and count toiletries,” she said, laughing.
Rochelson estimates that she spends between eight and ten hours each week counting and sorting items, which are distributed to about 1,600 families each month. To date, OSD drives have been held in 15 states, as far as Alaska, California and Nevada. And this summer, OSD made its first delivery to Ghana, Africa.
“Toiletries bring people confidence – when you wake up in the morning and brush your teeth and wash your face, you feel good about yourself,” Rochelson said. “I want everyone to be able to have that feeling.”
And each year, OSD gets a little bigger. Last spring, during her freshman year at F-M High School, Rochelson developed a curriculum for elementary schoolers to help raise awareness about the need for toiletries while teaching math and science. She went to Mott Road Elementary School, where she presented a Powerpoint presentation to the second-grade class and coordinated a soap box derby, where the students were able to build their own cars out of empty soap boxes race them down a ramp.
“It was getting very routine with the typical drive pickup and delivery,” she said. “Most people involved with Operation Soap Dish were older, so I wanted to find a way for kids to learn about it, too.”
Currently, Rochelson is working on writing a lesson plan so that teachers across the country can emulate what the Mott Road students did last spring.
2014 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award
In late June, it was announced that Rochelson was one of 15 recipients nationwide of the 2014 DillerTeen Tikkun Olam Awards, a $36,000 award that recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service.
Rochelson will travel to San Francisco to receive the award on Aug. 25, which is given to teenagers who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change through “tikkun olam” – the vision of Bay Area Philanthropist Helen Diller, the force behind The Helen Diller Family Foundation.
“I’m very grateful for being selected for this award,” she said. “I was just ecstatic when I found out – I didn’t really expect to win because there are so many teens out there that do such great things.”
She said she plans to save some of the money to pay for higher education and donate the rest to charity.
How to help
Rochelson is always looking for help with counting and sorting and encourages anyone who may want to start their own drive to do so. For more information about Operation Soap Dish or to find out how you can help, visit operationsoapdish.org or facebook.com/pages/Operation-Soap-Dish/480056238691358.
“My dream is that someday, Operation Soap Dish won’t be needed anymore and that everyone will have access to toiletries,” Rochelson said.