images by Relics of Rainbows Photo
Matthew Reel, 12, of Spring was named as one of Texas’ top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As a State Honoree, Matthew will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., where he will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019.
Matthew, a sixth-grader at Cox Intermediate School, has been helping to feed hungry kids and adults since 2015 by distributing food packets through a Houston mission and packing food into backpacks for students who might otherwise go hungry on weekends. In 2015, when Matthew was 8 years old, his church hosted a family night to make “blessing bags” for the homeless. But by the time it was Matthew’s turn to make a bag, there were hardly any supplies left, so he asked his mother to take him to the store to buy more. After he had filled his bag, he found a homeless man to give it to. “When I handed it to the man,” said Matthew, “he looked at me, smiled and said, ‘May God bless you, little boy!’ It was then that I knew I was meant to help feed those in need.” He announced to his parents that for his upcoming birthday, he didn’t want a party or presents but instead items to make food packets for the homeless.
Over the next few weeks, Matthew solicited donations via email and online appeals, recruited volunteers to help, and packaged small food items into more than 1,000-gallon Ziploc bags. He then delivered them to the Star of Hope Mission, which serves the needs of homeless men, women and children. Additional items that wouldn’t fit into bags were used by the mission to prepare meals. Later, Matthew learned how hunger affects students’ academic performance. “It was upsetting to me to think that kids my age were not doing well in school because they didn’t have enough to eat,” he said. So, he started a backpack program with the goal of providing five families with weekend food. He persuaded four schools to hold food drives for him and received additional support from scout groups and a church. The next year, with the help of 2 Disney Channel Grants, and 2 Sodexo Grants, Matthew expanded his program to 25 families, and began adding items such as toiletries, first aid supplies, arts and crafts materials and books to his backpacks. He hopes to keep growing his program “so that every kid has the same advantages with their education without lack of food affecting them,” he said.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.
Learn more about Matthew on his website: www.matthewsbirthdaywish.com