Baldwin Park Girl Scout Kelsey Chico spent her winter break loading in and out of a pick-up truck on a road trip across the districts of Haiti. At each stop, the truckload lightened as she and her mother dropped of 97 cardboard boxes filled with donations they’d collected for Haitians still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Two months after Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti, claiming the lives of over 1,000 people and destroying an estimated 200,000 homes, Kelsey, 15, collected and delivered two and half tons of donations in Nippes, the largest district in the country. The donations ranged from clothes and shoes to food and baby items.
Clad in her Girl Scout uniform covered from seam-to-seam with badges, Kelsey handed out bags of rice, canned goods, and clothing to the people in the small towns of Nippes. Men examined pairs of sneakers that she handed out, trying them on for size. Women held up T-shirts and blouses in the air, and children crowded around Kelsey picking out toys and clothes, posing with her for photos afterward.
It had been a long journey, but the whole experience was worth it for Kelsey.
“It doesn’t matter if I slept two or three hours at night or woke up at 6,” she said. “It was worth it because I wouldn’t want to waste any second trying to get those boxes to the people that need it.”
Kelsey decided to start a donation drive in the beginning of November 2016, as her yearly fundraiser for Girl Scouts. She started the drive at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, where she encouraged students through the PA system to drop off items they didn’t need.
Later, she approached the Baldwin Park Homeowner’s Association to see if she could also collect items around her community. Soon she would come home from school to see boxes and bags of donations left on her front door.
In six weeks Kelsey collected about 9,500 items.
“I never would’ve thought my community would do something like that and to come home every day from school to see a box, it just overfilled [me] with joy because it’s another box for someone that needs it most,” Kelsey said.
Her mother and Girls Scout troop leader, Vanessa Chico, said that Girls Scouts shapes girls to become leaders in their community and take action. She said she was happy people were supporting her without knowing her.
“I remember one night when we arrived we saw people sneaking out here,” Vanessa said. “They were trying to figure out the house. … They went to our front porch and just you know, very silently left the bags and [ran] off — that was very neat to see that.”
But collecting the items was only the first step.
Kelsey spent a whole weekend sorting through the items and organizing them back into boxes. Once sorted, she still had to figure out how they were going to get the donations from Orlando to Haiti.
That’s where Shneidine Jean Louis, an Orlando consulate for Haiti, came into the project.
Kelsey approached Jean Louis in her office and asked for help bringing the donations to Haiti, and in turn, gained a friend.
“She’s the one that guided me through the project and helped me deliver the donations as well,” Kelsey said. “So for her to be there next to me is going to be a memory that’ll be there forever.”
While some of her classmates may have been doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, Kelsey decided her winter break was the best time to distribute the donation. She and her family drove about an hour to Port Canaveral where Royal Caribbean International would help her transport all the donations to Labadee, Haiti to begin the journey.
From there, Kelsey and her family, along with Jean Louis, drove six hours from Labadee to Port –au-Prince before heading to six towns in Nippes to hand out the donations.
For Kelsey, the trip changed how she viewed the world.
“It made me stop for a moment and think: I live in a country where I have a lot of things,” Kelsey said.
She compared what she has to the realities of Haiti, where many people don’t have clean water, and she said it’s a feeling that only those who have seen people in these conditions can feel.
Her mother, Vanessa, is both proud of what her daughter accomplished and thankful for everyone that contributed.
“We reflected on the project as a way to see how in this day, in our day, people still respond to the kindness of helping each other and how a group of [strangers] come together to help those in need – even outside the United States, because they don’t have to do that,” Vanessa said.
As a Girl Scout, Kelsey said she is happy she made a difference not only in her community, but outside of it as well. She hopes to continue to send donations to Haiti every year until she graduates high school.
And whenever she’s asked if all Girl Scouts do is sell cookies, she always gives them the same answer.
“I say no,” Kelsey said. “It’s much more than that.”