When Nikoletta Innocenti of Franklin Lakes decided to go for the gold (Girl Scout Gold Award, that is), it was natural for her to brainstorm a service project to benefit Oasis, the Paterson organization dedicated to helping needy women and children. That's because Nikoletta, who is now a junior at Immaculate Heart Academy of Washington Township, has been involved with the charity all her life.
"Growing up, my mom was very involved in Oasis," says Nikoletta. "My brother, two sisters and I have been going to Oasis for approximately eight years. As younger children, our volunteering opportunities were limited, however my mom brought us to Oasis every week to provide a foundation to help, nurture and to increase awareness to those in need.
"As I got older, I could decide where I wanted to help the most" she says, "and I have always noticed the food pantry is never full. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure it was always fully stocked."
At first, Nikoletta started a food drive the old-fashioned way. She went to friends' and neighbors' houses collecting donated goods. Others dropped canned goods off at her house. Still, that didn't seem to be enough.
"I wanted to create a more organized food drive, one that was more convenient for the people donating. I also wanted to create a way that my food drive could reach more people. I was looking for a way that my food drive could be sustainable."
That's when the teen turned to the Web. She became a "drive starter" on YouGiveGoods, a website that allows her to spread the word via social media, with a YouGiveGoods.com page where donors can purchase items online to contribute to her food drive for Oasis.
Her first drive began in February, and in one month she was able to raise $2,000 worth of food. Nikoletta has continued with the online drives.
"People want to do good; they want to help," she says. "With this website, helping others fits into busy schedules and lives. It also makes it more convenient for the charity, who will get large, organized deliveries of items it needs."
For its part, Oasis makes good use of the donations. "All items contributed will help us help the women and children who turn to Oasis each day," says Jim Walsh, director of social services and youth development programs at Oasis.
Oasis, 59 Mill St., Paterson, is dedicated to feeding and clothing needy women and children and to offering educational resources and skills to obtain meaningful employment. For more information, visit oasisnj.org.
How to Help
Give to the food drive by going online at YouGiveGoods.com and searching "Oasis" or "Nikoletta." Donations begin at $5 and go up. Everyone who orders receives a tax-exempt letter directly to their email for the donation. At the end of each month, food is delivered to Oasis.
"Every month I create a new themed food drive," says Nikoletta, "so I encourage donors to forward my food drive information, and try to make donating to Oasis a monthly obligation."