Chargers give back to the community to spread holiday cheer

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Catherine Xu

Senior Parth Vakil takes part in Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign. Participates wrote letters to government officials addressing human rights violations.

Catherine Xu, Arts&Style editor

It’s gift-giving season, and with it brings the seasonal frets about what to get close family and friends. This year, many students are opting to go beyond simply giving traditional presents by electing to give back to those around them. Many student associations hold events or partner with charities to aid those in need. One such example is Future Business Leaders of America’s (FBLA) collaboration with Project ASK.

“Project ASK is an organization that provides support to families and those affected by cancer,” senior and FBLA president Kamal Mazhar said. “The whole concept is that students in FBLA and other participating groups would donate gift cards for gas money, supermarkets, things of that nature because of the substantial financial burden that the cancer treatments would have on the family.”

According to the National Children’s Cancer Society, one in four families lose over 40% of their annual income due to treatment-related work disruption. This percentage does not include expenses such as travel and additional daycare, costs which families have to pay out-of-pocket. 

“We’re focusing on people in Virginia because [families] have to travel far away to go to specific hospitals that give treatment for their type of cancer,” Mazhar said. “Most of them have to travel all the way down to Richmond to the VCU Medical Center; that’s why we ask for gas gift cards.”

By choosing to support families through Project ASK, students not only make their holiday season brighter, but also reduce the financial stress associated with cancer treatment. 

“It really is helping people in our area,” Mazhar said. “That’s one of the reasons why I really support it because we’re getting directly involved with our community.”

Similar to FBLA, the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program also participates in an annual donation event. Toys for Tots, a toy drive operated by the Marine Corps Reserve, allows students to contribute toys to families who struggle to purchase gifts for their children.

“By donating toys to children from less fortunate households, we create an experience for underprivileged kids similar to the ones that any other kid would have when they get a gift during the holidays,” sophomore Mahima Suresh said.

JROTC gives back through Toys for Tots for the holiday season and also to meet the standards the organization upholds.

“As AFJROTC cadets, we are taught to give back and serve our community. Our core values are integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do,” Suresh said. “We do our best to fulfill all these core values. By participating in the Toys for Tots drive, we fulfill our need to serve.”

While Project ASK and Toys for Tots support local causes, Amnesty International’s Write for Rights reaches people all around the world. Write for Rights is a grassroots letter-writing campaign aimed to free people who have had their human rights violated, such as through unfair detainment or imprisonment. These letters are either sent to prisoners to inform them that people are trying to help them or sent to the government to petition for their release.

“Most people [think] ‘A letter? What can a letter do? Why would the president of Nigeria listen to some person’s letter?’” senior and Amnesty International president Gayatri Chintala said. “But it’s not just one person’s letter. It’s a lot of people’s letters.”

According to Amnesty International USA’s website, the organization has helped to free countless oppressed people across the world. In the past three years, Write for Rights has freed people in Chad, Istanbul, Turkey and El Salvador. In 2018, the campaign helped Kyrgyzstan pass a law that ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Write for Rights is really interesting because it helps everyone do something as simple as writing a letter and supporting another person,” Chintala said. “It’s been really impactful, and I like being a part of that.”

The holiday season reminds students to give not only to their friends and family, but also to those in need. Whether it be in the local area or on a worldwide scale, opportunities like these give students the means to aid others.

“It brings the local community together because you are all writing letters to support other people,” Chintala said. “No matter what political spectrum you fall on, you [can] all agree that human rights is something worth supporting.”