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Virtual babysitting, food and book drives — students get creative to give back

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 26, 2020

 Groves High School sophomore Cooper Schoenberg has spearheaded a book drive for young Detroit students in need during the school shutdown.

Groves High School sophomore Cooper Schoenberg has spearheaded a book drive for young Detroit students in need during the school shutdown.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 Helping Hands, a charitable club based out of the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, is delivering handmade thank-you cards and groceries to front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Helping Hands, a charitable club based out of the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, is delivering handmade thank-you cards and groceries to front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Photo provided by Adrianna Kallabat, Helping Hands

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BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD — Even a global pandemic the likes of which most generations today have never seen — one that has pumped the brakes on final exams, proms and graduation ceremonies — can’t stop Birmingham Public Schools and Bloomfield Hills Schools students from using their talents to help the community.

 

Give time
As any flustered parent will likely tell you these days, there just aren’t enough resources to keep kiddos focused all day while schooling from home.

Enter Big Buddies of Bloomfield, another student-spearheaded effort to help families by “virtually babysitting” children during video calls.

Of course, there won’t be any teens available to actually come to a family’s home and let parents run for the hills, but they can play games and engage online with little learners while grownups take a breather nearby.

Need an hour to catch up on your favorite Netflix show or just sit and drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted? The Big Buddies have got you covered.

“The service offers an elementary school child with a high school ‘buddy’ who can spend time doing productive activities virtually,” cofounder Noah Yaker, a BHHS sophomore, said in an email. “Parents can select how they would like us to engage with their child — from educational activities, educational games, reading, homework help or outdoor activities.”

So far, 16 local high school students have been selected to participate, and parents can read biographies of available “buddies” online at bigbuddiesofbloomfield.squarespace.com to find the perfect match for their child’s interests.

The service is free, but Yaker and his partner Noah Roslin, also a sophomore at BHHS, hope families can donate $10 per hour, which will be given to United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s COVID-19 Community Fund.

 

Give food
Sixteen-year-old Andrew Zupancic, under normal circumstances, would be wrapping up his sophomore year at Bloomfield Hills High School with projects for his Student Leadership class and the theater department.

But since these are most certainly not normal circumstances, Zupancic changed course, but he didn’t lose any momentum. When he’s not doing schoolwork online, he’s working to keep his brand-new nonprofit venture up and running.

Titled Project Porch Pantry, Zupancic has coordinated a service so residents can leave food items on their porch to be picked up by volunteer drivers. The lot will be donated to Lighthouse of Oakland County for families suffering with food insecurity during the virus lockdown.

“(Our family was) talking at dinner one night about how we could help the community and help others who are struggling in some way, and how we could make an impact in a safe and feasible way,” said Zupancic, who has asthma and weakened lung tissue due to infections as a child. “We wanted to do a food drive, but I can’t risk getting sick.”

Participants simply sign up online at projectporchpantry.com to donate food or to drive a pickup route. Project Porch Pantry is also accepting monetary donations to go toward the mission, and PNC Bank has vowed to match 100% of the funds raised.

Jeff Zupancic, Andrew’s father, said he’s supportive of the effort and lends a hand how and when he can, but largely, he just tries to stay out of his very driven son’s way.

“He’s the type of kid who is really involved, so now that a lot of things that usually keep him busy like (student leadership) have been taken off this plate, I’m not surprised he wanted to do this. And he’s done it himself, wrote a script for the (promotional) video, reached out to the school district to get some publicity — that was all him.”

 

Give stories
At Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, students are hoping to feed not only tummies, but minds. Sophomore Cooper Schoenberg kicked off a book drive to collect donations of new and gently used books for Detroit children in need.

“With schools and libraries currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been cut off from access to books,” Schoenberg said in a press release. “My goal is to get books into the homes of as many families served by Brilliant Detroit as possible so children can keep up their reading skills during the summer months.”

The books will be passed along to Brilliant Detroit, an organization that aims to improve kindergarten readiness and early childhood development by providing year-round programming and services to children in underserved neighborhoods.

Since the start of the pandemic, Brilliant Detroit has distributed more than 3,000 books to homes, according to co-founder and CEO Cindy Eggleton.

 “We are grateful to Cooper for his invaluable assistance with our organization, especially during this time,” Eggleton said in a press release. “Through his efforts to mobilize his local community, we will be able to provide families and children with a fundamental tool to help them be school and life ready.”

Donate books or learn more on the effort’s Instagram page @detroit_book_drive, or email Schoenberg at cschoenberg123@gmail.com.

 

Give gratitude
Adrianna Kallabat, an International Academy in Bloomfield Hills junior, is the president of the school’s service club, Helping Hands: a Students for Students Movement, which she founded with her younger sister, Gabriella Kallabat. They’ve really ramped up their regular outreach efforts during the pandemic panic.

Participating students read books virtually to preschool students and have penned more than 200 letters to younger students to let them know they’re not alone during this scary time. That’s in addition to launching a peer counseling hotline and a virtual spirit week for districts missing out on end-of-year festivities.

Kallabat’s crew isn’t composed of just hands that help, but also hands that applaud front-line heroes. One of the group’s more colorful projects is a partnership with Mediumize — a charitable food-delivery service founded in the halls of IA — and the business Originally Inspired Designs, to create personalized thank-you cards to be sent to local first responders, along with $200 in groceries.

Visit helpinghandschange.org for more information.

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