Two students at Bellarmine College Preparatory have been named GoFundMe Heroes for their dedication to feeding homeless people in San Jose.
Sophomore Ayaan Vaswani, 15, and junior Josh Isaac, 16, started the Bellarmine Lunch Bag Initiative (BLBI) in the fall. Students meet weekly before school to assemble meals that are then distributed to various shelters and churches serving the homeless.
Kelsea Little, head of brand storytelling at GoFundMe, said the Heroes program is in its fifth year and has featured over 120 different campaigns. Heroes are selected through an internal review process, she added.
“We look for people who are passionate about their communities, and everyday people who turn to GoFundMe to bring their visions of a better future for our world to life,” said Little.
“We came across Josh and Ayaan’s fundraiser and were captivated by the story of inspiration from their mothers and their commitment at a young age to be a resource of help for those in need in their community,” she added. “Their passion and dedication for the cause is truly inspired, and we love that they’re offering their peers a way to get involved, too.”
Josh and Ayaan’s mothers started to make and distribute sandwiches for the homeless in 2013, when the boys were young. Seeing this service to others inspired the teens, friends since preschool, to start their own club at Bellarmine.
“Our parents have been doing things like this for a decade now with friends and family,” said Ayaan. “We saw what they were doing and decided to bring this about in our community on a larger scale.”
Every Wednesday morning before school, Josh, Ayaan and other club members meet to assemble 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and put together the lunches, which include fruit, a granola bar and sanitary supplies. The BLBI has approximately 30 members, with about eight to 10 regulars who help make the lunches every week, according to the boys.
Bellarmine, a private boys Jesuit school in San Jose, encourages students to “live according to a pattern of love and service modeled by Jesus Christ” and by “setting the needs of the poor and marginalized as the horizon of our vision,” according to its website.
“Bellarmine requires 15-20 (community service) hours per year,” said Ayaan. “Because of that some of our volunteers get service hours, but many don’t and they still come, which is actually very amazing to see.”
“Getting service hours wasn’t (our) goal, but we thought it would attract more club members if we got certified for Christian Service Program hours,” said Josh.
Bellarmine’s Christian Service Program is a yearly requirement where students perform off-campus community service, typically for nonprofit agencies that support marginalized groups. Students must complete their hours outside of class time.
BLBI began not just to fulfill a school requirement but because both boys noticed a need in their community. Josh said he learned about the plight of the homeless from his mother, and also by listening to the news on the drive to school. Ayaan also learned about homelessness from his parents, and from his environment.
“Whenever I went to San Jose’s downtown to grab some food, I always saw homeless people outside in the cold,” said Ayaan. “It was hard to offer them food every time on the way (to and from school). This is why our club was perfect for getting food to people in our community with convenience and at this scale.”
The BLBI was at first funded by both boys’ parents. However, the boys wanted the BLBI to live on throughout their remaining high school years and maybe expand.
Our parents “said that we had to get some other source of income as they wanted our club to be independent, so we started the GoFundMe,” said Josh.
Their “Help fund meals for the homeless in San Jose!” GoFundMe campaign helps cover the cost of supplies, and has raised over $20,000 to date. Recipients of the lunches include nonprofit groups such as The Window at 195 E. San Fernando St., a drop-in office run by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to serve the homeless, and LifeMoves shelters like the Georgia Travis House.
“Josh and Ayaan, through their Bellarmine Lunch Bag Initiative, have been donating 50-100 sandwiches once a week, greatly helping our clients here at The Window at Catholic Charities,” said assistant case manager Elijah Wild.
According to Santa Clara County’s Homeless Census and Survey from early January, there were 6,739 individuals experiencing homelessness in San Jose, an increase of 11% from its 2019 survey. Santa Clara County had 10,028 homeless individuals in 2022, an increase of 3% from 2019.
“We both live in San Jose,” said Ayaan. “Our location has a lot to do with our drive to aid our community as there is such an extreme need for this, in the Bay Area specifically.”
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