Chatham girl, 11, and her family lend hand to the less fortunate

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A family conversation about helping homeless people inspired a Chatham girl to become a champion for the impoverished, helping collect food and money donations for the Salvation Army, and a pandemic wasn’t going to stop her.

Eleven-year-old Raelyn Drew, along with help from her parents, Jen and Randy, and brother Johnathan, 7, have been making annual donations since 2017.

The latest donation came on Friday when a van filled with food, as well as $250 in grocery store gift cards, was dropped off at the Salvation Army Community & Family Services office in Chatham for its food bank program.

“From people,” Raelyn shyly said about the source of the donations.

When Raelyn was six, she innocently asked about helping the impoverished if the family could give all of their money to the homeless.

When Jen suggested they could perhaps do something else to help, Raelyn came up with the idea to have a lemonade stand to collect donations, her mother remembered.

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Her first lemonade stand in 2017 raised $300 and collected 10 boxes of food.

In 2018, Raelyn’s stand raised to $900 and gathered four boxes of food. Another lemonade stand that year raised $200 for the Salvation Army’s annual toy drive, earning her an honorary induction into the Chatham-Kent Harley Owners’ Group for her big heart.

In 2019, Raelyn was curious how much food the more than $700 raised at the lemonade stand that year would buy, so the family teamed with Real Canadian Superstore to deliver five full shopping carts of food to the Salvation Army.

When COVID hit last year, Raelyn and her family knew they couldn’t do the lemonade stand due to pandemic restrictions, so they put out a call for help and organized a drop-off and pick up food drive, collecting $425 and 20 bags of food.

Raelyn’s uncle, Scott Burke of Lally Kia, got the auto dealership involved raising another $340.

The donation on April 30 included food and money collected from pickup and drop-off locations in Chatham, Blenheim and Wallaceburg.

Overcoming the challenges of COVID, the Drew family adopted the motto: “When life gives you lemons, you change the world.”

Raelyn said she never imagined five years later she’d still be raising food and money for the Salvation Army.

But she likes doing it because “it’s helping people and it’s fun.”

Allie Matthews, manager of the Salvation Army Community & Family Services office, said it was “amazing to see the younger generation want to step up and help the community.”

She added as many people are experiencing their own time of need, right now, Raelyn is “still seeing the light through that and continuing to help out anyway she can.”

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