St. James in Biddeford students Adrianna and Camryn organized an initiative to get donations for refugee children. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD — Making donations and participating in service projects is a wonderful way for young people to participate in the season of giving.

But how about a pair of girls in Biddeford who organized their own initiative to help a sometimes overlooked community in need?

Adriana and Camryn, two eighth graders at St. James School in Biddeford collected food, toys, and grocery money to donate to the refugee community living in Maine.

The generosity of the school community led to a massive collection of goods for children and families to enjoy at Christmas and beyond, as well over $400 of monetary donations to allow for more items to be purchased.

The inspiration came from home. Adriana’s mother is a social worker at the multilingual and multicultural department at Portland Public Schools.

“I’ve been working with the refugee, asylum seeker, and immigrant population for the last seven years,” said Priscila, Adriana’s mom.

But it was a deeper bond that helped create Adriana’s focus on caring for this community. Her parents were undocumented immigrants, and Adriana’s mom was separated from her parents during the immigration journey.

“In the summer of 2019, Adriana desired to work with me at the Expo in Portland when Maine welcomed around 200 families,” said Priscila. “Adriana helped me organize ice cream socials with some of her friends and is always willing to translate whenever I need them since she also speaks Portuguese.”

Looking to take the next step in offering assistance, Adriana’s mom proposed an idea of having a massive collection of items for refugees.

Adriana and Camryn, quite literally, took it from there.

“I felt like I needed to help the refugees some more,” said Adriana. “This opportunity really called out to me, then I asked Camryn if she wanted to help.”

“Adriana told me about it, and I thought it would be fun,” said Camryn. “I thought it would be a great way to give back.”

The friends created a flyer to spread the word in the school community and beyond. Almost immediately, families of St. James students and staff members jumped on board donating the items requested like cereal, crackers, cookies, snacks, crayons, notebooks, coloring books, toys and more. Monetary donations to purchase additional items has been happily accepted as well.

“I am very proud of these two students for tackling this independently and for their compassion towards an often overlooked segment of our Maine population,” said Jamie White, their teacher at St. James. “In school, they have been humble but excited to have the St. James community help by sending in donations.”

“They are not doing this for volunteer hours,” said Nancy Naimey, principal of St. James. “They are doing this because they felt the need to help the kids and their families.”

Their classmates wanted to pitch in, too, and they helped the girls sort the items and create baskets for the refugee children, with the baskets that were to be delivered the weekend before Christmas.

“Of course, seeing my daughter organizing something like this makes me proud,” said Priscila. “But what makes me more proud is seeing her get her friends involved. I believe that Maine still has a long way to accept this population; integrating the kids and making them aware of the struggles that the immigrants go through in life can be a life-changing experience.”

It’s an experience that has already changed Adriana and Camryn, two kids who traded filling in their Christmas lists to fill the hearts of hundreds.

“It makes me feel good,” said Adriana. “I feel that helping others brings me closer to positivity and a happy, equal world, even it if it’s just in my town.”

“I have learned that I am lucky to have the things I have because others are not as fortunate,” said Camryn. “Helping others like this has made me feel happy, proud, and accomplished.”

For more information about the initiative and how you can still help, contact St. James School at (207) 282-4084.

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