Seventh grader collects food for classmates in need amid school closures

A seventh grader in Conroe ISD is proof that you can make a big difference at any age.

Although school is out, Matthew Reel is still hard at work.

"I'm collecting food for families that are in need because of the coronavirus," said Matthew, a student at Cox Intermediate. "I hope to get enough food to last about three weeks, three thousand pounds."

With his own mobile donation trailer, Matthew is collecting non-perishable food from the community outside Oak Ridge High School. All of the donations will go to classmates who won't have access to free school meal programs the next few weeks.

"We have many families who, due to lack of transportation or their family income being cut because of businesses not operating, they just don't have the food they need," said Denise Cipolla, Conroe ISD Guidance & Counseling Coordinator.

Fighting hunger is a mission that's been close to Matthew's heart since his ninth birthday. Instead of asking for presents that year, he asked his family and friends to help him make food packets for the homeless.

"I wanted to make a lot of packets. My goal was only 10 at first," said Matthew. "Then I said 50, then 100. When I was finally done making the packets, I had 337."

Since then, he's turned his efforts into his own nonprofit, Matthew's Birthday Wish. A few years ago, he teamed up with Conroe ISD to start his own meal program.

"He was able to begin this for our students who are food insecure," said Cipolla.

Every week, Matthew provides meal packs for classmates to take home on the weekends. Now, he's hoping to keep those donations coming while school is out.

"The first year I was helping families, I was doing 10 families a week. Then I just kept going up. Now I'm at about 173 families," said Matthew.

Matthew's hope is to spread his program across the country, too.

"My main goal is to have the first student-run food program in the United States," said Matthew.

But for this week, he just wants to help families who are suddenly homebound and don't have the food they need.

"What Matthew does and what our community is doing today, trying to help support his mission, it's really phenomenal," said Anthony LiVecchi, principal of Oak Ridge High School. "If every kid realized their own individual actions could make a difference, it could be huge what we could do."

Matthew's mobile donation trailer will be outside Oak Ridge High School at 27330 Oak Ridge School Road again Friday, March 20th from 10am-2pm. Any canned goods or non-perishable food donations are welcome.

For more information, visit Matthew's Birthday Wish.
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