By Lauren Kirchmyer
Olivia Roneker vividly remembers coming home from school in tears when she was in kindergarten. She found out her school was holding a food drive, which started in November, but wouldn’t benefit the people in the community until Christmastime.
“I was so sad no one was getting anything for Thanksgiving,” Roneker said.
Later that day, she and her mom went to the store to buy food. After making some phone calls, they found a place where they could donate the food to help people for the holiday.
Several years later, the now fourth grader at Northwood Elementary School in the West Seneca Central School District continues to collect food and monetary donations. From hosting cookies and milk parties at her home to placing collection bins at businesses in the community, she wound up with two vans full of donations to give back to multiple organizations this year. Some donations came from as far as Rochester, where her aunt lives, and Texas, where her uncle lives.
Unlike previous years, Roneker, who will be 10 on Jan. 1, was able to volunteer for a couple of hours at one of her donation locations, Resurrection Life’s Food Pantry in Cheektowaga, and see how her work helps people in the community.
“This year was really eye opening because I saw people I knew there,” she said. “You don’t know other people’s backgrounds and you can’t make fun of them. You don’t know what happened. They could have lost their job or something.”
The Cheektowaga Police Department recognized Roneker’s good deeds on their Facebook page this year, calling her an inspiration. She was also recognized by her school on the morning announcements.
“The first thing on my mind was, ‘What did I do?’ ” she joked. “I’m usually one of those people who just blends in with the crowd. Today is the most I’ve ever heard the word ‘hi’ in a long time.”
Her classmates applauded her when the announcement was over. One girl in the room was in tears she was so happy to hear what Roneker was doing.
“I told [our Principal] Ms. Ferri all of the wonderful things you did and how we needed to recognize you in school,” shared Brenna Fitzpatrick, Northwood’s social worker. “It’s remarkable what you’ve done and how many people you have helped!”
Roneker hopes to someday fill an RV with food to donate to the community. When she’s older, she wants to buy a 10-floor mansion and fill three of the floors with food for the homeless and people who can’t afford it.
“I think what my message is showing is that it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Roneker added, “you just need to know you can make a difference.”