Ashlin Ivester started Holiday Helper her junior year of high school and is now into her third season of this grassroots initiative. Ash reflects on its beginnings and where it’s headed.
VISIONS Foundation is matching up to $500 in donations that come from VISIONS alumni and Bozeman High School communities, so let’s all help Ash with Holiday Helper! Donate here and make a note that your donation is for this project.
For the past two summers (2022 and 2023) I have gone to the Dominican Republic with VISIONS. My groups and I worked with the community to build infrastructure on local schools and run a day camp for young kids. I have learned so much from my time in the DR. I loved being included in Cotuí’s tight-knit community and learning from locals and friends that I made on my trip.
There is a sense of community that is hard to explain and that I have never felt in the same way here in the U.S., but that I am so grateful to have experienced for two summers in a row. I still talk to people both in the Dominican Republic and the other high school volunteers from the trip from all over the U.S., and I am eternally grateful for these friendships.
Now, creating that sense of community wherever I am is a big goal of mine. Through Holiday Helper, I am working to not only increase awareness on topics such as food insecurity, but to also show people that working within our communities is a key to our success.
I will forever be grateful for the opportunities that I had with VISIONS. My eyes have been opened to the possibilities we have to help others, care for others, and grow as individuals, resulting in a better world for us all.
Q: HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE ON YOUR TEAM?
A: My parents and I are the official core team, and then we have 7 – 20 additional volunteers per night. We have a sign-up app for volunteering.
Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROJECT.
A: Holiday Helper is a meal program that I started during my junior year of high school that provides families and individuals in need with a home-cooked meal during the holiday season. Each person requesting a meal has the opportunity to customize their meal via an order form that we send to them. From December 17th – 24th, volunteers will help shop, prepare and package meals. On the 24th we personally deliver all of the meals. We did about 120 meals the first year and last year we did about 206. We’re aiming for 250-300 this year! All leftover funding is donated to grocery gift cards. We’re hoping to raise $2000 this year.
Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THIS?
A: The holiday season is my favorite time of the year without question, and it’s mostly because of the food. Gathering around a delicious home-cooked meal is a big deal for my family and now that I am in college, it is a really special time for us to connect.
When I realized that not everyone gets to experience this same feeling because of poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, or other reasons, I wanted to start this program. I hope to help provide anyone in this community who lacks resources for the holidays with some comforting homemade food.
Q: WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED AS YOU ENTER YOUR 3RD SEASON OF HOLIDAY HELPER?
A: The more that I volunteer and travel to under-resourced communities, the more I want to grow and expand this program. We have seen the numbers in volunteers, donations, and recipients steadily increase over the past two years and it is really important to me that these numbers keep growing, because that also means that awareness on the topics of food insecurity, homelessness, and poverty is growing, too.
Q: YOU STARTED THIS PROJECT AS A JUNIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL. DID YOUR TIME SERVING AS A VOLUNTEER WITH VISIONS AFFECT YOUR WORK WITH HOLIDAY HELPER IN ANY WAYS?
A: Absolutely. I have gone to the Dominican Republic with VISIONS for two summers in a row now and I have learned crucial leadership skills that have allowed me to grow as a leader and person. My experience with VISIONS has made clear the importance of community and working together for a common goal and I have been able to learn a multitude of skills that I can implement into my work with Holiday Helper.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR END GOALS?
A: I know that it is unrealistic to want to end homelessness, food insecurity, etc., but it is my goal to increase awareness on these topics and to get people involved. I think that a little work goes a long way and it is so important to support the people making our community and world what it is. I think that Holiday Helper and VISIONS have shown my community and communities across the world that no matter what your age is, you can make an impact on the people around you.
Q: WHAT ARE SPECIFIC WAYS THAT OTHERS CAN HELP YOU REACH YOUR GOALS?
A: We’re looking to increase the number of volunteers, especially on December 24, when we deliver meals. We need more people who can drive and get out into the community, especially because we’re getting more order forms from outside of Bozeman.
People can also donate monetarily, which is super helpful. Besides helping with the costs of food, we’ve been able to give $50-$100 grocery store gift cards with every meal we deliver and we want to continue doing that.