Lawrence Township sixth-grader Kayla Jackson will launch her third-annual “Kayla Cares If You Are Cold” blanket drive 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 25, at Quaker Bridge Mall.
Having collected 250 blankets her first year and 1,200 last year, the Lawrence Intermediate School student is hoping to gather this year 2,000 blankets that will then be donated to a variety of charities, such as Angels Wings, Anchor House, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, and local dialysis centers and animal shelters.
Kayla has “a heart of gold and is very caring,” said LIS fifth-grader teacher Carol Petrone, who taught Kayla last year and nominated her for a 2011 Young Heroes Award, which she won. Kayla and other winners were recognized during a ceremony held earlier this year at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia.
“Each year, she raised the bar higher and has set an accomplishment beyond her expectations. She is one who is caring, sweet, ambitious, driven, nice…I could go on and on how brilliant she is!” Petrone said.
Jessica Glover, a sixth-grade math teacher and advisor to the LIS Philanthropic Club, echoed those sentiments.
Kayla’s “ambition spread like wildfire throughout our school,” Glover said.
New to LIS, the Philanthropic Club is made up of sixth-graders “who volunteer their time to make posters on their own time and collect items for good causes such as Kayla's. The Philanthropic Club is one of the many new sixth-grade Future Leaders clubs at LIS this year that encourage our students to practice citizenship, respect, caring, trustworthiness, fairness, and responsibility – otherwise known as our ‘Pillars of Character,’” Glover explained.
“We are looking forward to helping Kayla reach her goal of 2,000 blankets this year,” Petrone added.
“Kayla Cares If You Are Cold” began one day two years ago when Kayla and her mother, Kathi Jackson, were in the attic of their Lawrence Township home and Kayla spotted her old butterfly blanket. Realizing that many people are less fortunate and often go cold, she told her mother that she wanted to donate the blanket. He mom suggested, “Why don’t we see if other friends have blankets they can also give away.”
That first year – all through word-of-mouth – she collected 250 blankets. The following year, local media outlets helped publicize Kayla’s blanket drive and she doubled her original goal of 600 blankets.
Barry Baker at Blowout Bedding in Pennsauken heard about “Kayla Cares” on ABC News last year and donated a tractor-trailer full of blankets, shams and pillowcases. "When we get returns we do not resell them," he explained.
The Blowout Bedding donation actually arrived after Kayla had already distributed last year’s other donations. As a result, the items donated by Baker were sent to hurricane victims in North Carolina and South Carolina through the organization Homeless to Independence.
Baker said this year Blowout Bedding plans to donate at least as many – if not more – items to “Kayla Cares.”
The Jackson family said they are grateful to John Simone of Lawrence Township-based Simone Realty for donating the use of a building for Kayla to store donated blankets, both last year and this year. They said their house quickly became overwhelmed during that first year, when “only” 250 blankets were collected. With donations this year expected to be in the thousands, they cannot imagine how they would store the blankets without his generosity.
Kim McNear, executive director of Anchor House, describes Kayla as “a warm child, very endearing.”
Anchor House is a non-profit organization that helps runaway, homeless, abused and at-risk youth and their families.
Children helped by Anchor House were “excited to be able to pick out their own blankets,” McNear said. For a child who is hurting, McNear said, having a blanket of their own means “security, warmth, and comfort. Kayla was able to bring them that. We are delighted by her efforts.”
Last February, Kayla was the youngest award recipient at Anchor House’s “From the Heart Gala.”
She has been asked to attend the next gala as a greeter. McNear also invited Kayla to speak with the youth served by Anchor House to encourage them to volunteer. Giving back to others is an integral part of the Anchor House mission and Kayla exemplifies that goal, McNear said.
McNear is humbled by Kayla. “If a child can recognize a need, surely us, as adults, can be encouraged to do more.”
Kayla and her mom recognize that the blanket drive is too much for one person to do alone, and they are always happy to accept help from volunteers, such as McNear.
Ryan Stevens, a fourth-grader at LIS, and a good friend of the Jackson family, has become Kayla’s top volunteer. “He was a big help to us last year handing out flyers” and is already helping Kayla reach this year’s goal, Kathi Jackson said.
An immediate need, she said, is for someone to donate printing services, since printing flyers for the blanket drive rapidly becomes expensive. They are also in need of people with large vehicles to help transport the blankets to the storage site, as well as to donation sites in January. Anyone interested in helping out can email Kayla and her mom at KCCblanketdrive2@verizon.net.
Kayla said “the best part is getting blankets” into the hands of those who really need it.
So why not join Kayla on Black Friday at Quaker Bridge Mall, and bring some blankets to help her start this year’s drive? Her progress can be tracked on her blog at: http://kccblanketdrive.blogspot.com/
Donations will be collected until Jan. 7. No blanket is too big or too small for her drive.
Local Blanket Drop-Off Locations:
- Quaker Bridge Mall, 3320 Brunswick Pike (Route 1), Lawrence Township
- Empower Fitness, Lawrence Shopping Center, 2495 Brunswick Pike (Business Route 1), Lawrence Township
- Schaffer's Tailors, 2799 Brunswick Pike (Business Route 1) Route 1, Lawrence Township
- Motion Gymnastics, Route 31, Pennington
- St. Paul AME Zion Church, 1130 Lower Ferry Rd., Ewing Township