‘18 For 18’
It’s amazing what a person can do when driven by passion, a good heart and a little faith.
Sarah Cabrera, a 17-year-old Cape Coral resident, has been doing something special on her birthday since she was 12 — collecting food for those who need it.
This year, for her 18th birthday in June, she set a lofty goal of collecting 18,000 pounds of food for the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
“18 For 18: Sarah’s Annual Birthday Food Drive” is accepting donations throughout the month of May to help end hunger in our city and beyond.
Cabrera learned at a young age how difficult it can be for those who cannot afford the basic necessities, such as food.
It all started one day during lunch at Trafalgar Elementary School.
“I was sitting at a lunch table with all my friends. And I saw this other girl sitting by herself,” Cabrera said.
She noticed the girl had a school lunch, but one for students who did not have the money up front. The young student was not eating.
“My heart broke for her. So I went and sat with her and I heard about her story and that her parents didn’t give her the money that she needed for school lunch — they didn’t have it,” Cabrera said. “So at a young age I kind of learned about what hunger insecurity was.”
Cabrera did some research, as a sixth grader, and became concerned about the fact that students did not have access to a school lunch during the summer months, as many kids depend on that lunch provided each day.
She came across the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida, which serves 28,000 individual in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties each week.
She called and said, “I want to have a food drive instead of a (12th) birthday party. How can I do this?”
Naturally, the food bank was all for it.
Her first goal was to collect 100 pounds of food. She even made fliers and called it “Teens Feeding Teens.”
Cabrera held her birthday party and “charged” people five canned goods to get in. After the party, the Harry Chapin Food Bank came and collected.
The first year only inspired her to do more. And as the years passed and her age began to increase, so did her aspirations.
“Every year my goal got bigger,” she said.
She even started to accept monitory donations for those who could not get out to the grocery store.
Harry Chapin Food Bank can turn $1 into $8 worth of food.
Across all six birthday parties Cabrera has celebrated since the inaugural food drive, she has collected over 4,000 pounds of food for Southwest Florida residents.
The largest donation came on her 14th birthday, as she raised 300 pounds of food and $461 dollars — which comes out to $3,688 worth of food to Harry Chapin — a place where she also interns on Fridays.
Talk of a food drive with some co-workers resulted in this year’s ambitious goal.
“I was messing around with some friends at the food bank and I was like, ‘I think I want to do 1,800 pounds of food.’ And they said, ‘Why not do 18,000?'”
The task seemed daunting to her at first, but she couldn’t shake the thought of it.
“I just kept thinking about it and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. ‘What if I did do 18,000? What if I got the community together to do it?’ I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was just on my heart,” she said.
The North Fort Myers High School student, who is duel-enrolled at FSW, was part of a group she helped organize called “Revenant” — a collection of 15-20 high school student leaders. The faith-based group performed community outreach goals stemming from their involvement in Cape Christian Fellowship and ended in 2018.
Cabrera said her involvement in the Cape Coral Caring Center has played a role in why she does what she does. She even gave her 17th birthday party donations to the center, as a member of Revenant volunteered there.
A specific program called “SOS: Save our Summer- Feed the Cape!” struck a chord with her.
“The program talks about how we have snowbirds here, and they’re the ones who usually donate. But once they’re gone is when the kids need food the most,” she said.
Other than wanting to help the less fortunate and learning from her experiences, Cabrera said the driving force behind her work comes from a higher power.
“Honestly, it’s 100 percent God,” she said. “I would not have been able to do this at all without him.”
The message she is trying to send is two-fold.
“A lot of people have looked down on the youth, saying, ‘Oh, they’re just on their phones. They’re just doing this or that,’ instead of empowering them and saying, ‘Hey, you can do something big.’ I would feel because I’m young I can’t do what people who own businesses and people who have other stuff can do. Towards the youth, you can do anything you set your mind to. Anything. Even if it is 18,000 pounds of food.
“And it’s also just to take a second and actually look at the people around you, because everyone is going through something. Whether it’s hunger or financial issue or divorces. Take a look around and see where’s the need,” Cabrera said.
She remembers the first time she brought up the idea to her parents, who are heavily involved at Cape Christian, where her mother is a secretary and her father a board member.
Cabrera and her sister also teach preschool there.
“At first when I told them about the idea of the food drive, they thought I was a little crazy,” she said with a smile.
Her parents asked if she was sure she did not want a more traditional party.
“No. I don’t want that,” she said. “I feel like I have enough. I’ve been so blessed with all the things that my parents have provided. Everything. I have food on the table. I have toys galore. So, I didn’t want that.”
The feedback from the community has been overwhelming, she said, as many local businesses have offered to place a box at their locations for people to drop off non-perishable items.
The nearly 20 drop-off locations include Cape Christian Preschool, Tony & Ada’s, all four FSW campuses, select Achieva Credit Unions, select Starbucks locations, The House of Ride Nature in Fort Myers and more.
Cabrera already has plans for her 19th birthday. As she hopes to expand her operation to other counties in Florida and possibly even other states. She doesn’t want anybody to feel that they are left out.
“My goal is to not just the feed the people here, but to partner with different food banks — hopefully all over the country,” she said.
Her dream is to be a CEO of a non-profit, whether that be continuing to feed the hungry by opening her own food bank, or to help solve the ever-increasing homeless epidemic in all areas of the country.
“Working with people in their time of need is where I want to go,” she said.
Collections have already started, though the big push to reach 18,000 pounds is from May 1-31.
For a full list of participating locations and for more information, visit Cabrera’s Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Sarahs18for18/.
You can also contribute financially via her GoFundMe by searching: “Sarah’s 18 for 18 Food Drive.”
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj