By Ojas Chitnis
New Jersey Visionary Cyber Leo Club, a youth group of Lions Clubs International sponsored by Edison Visionary Lions Club, has been recognized with the prestigious Kindness Matters Service Award by the International Association of Lions Clubs. The club, which is the only youth recipient in North America, received the award in a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, March 30th. It is the greatest achievement for the organization which is focused on service.
Each year, Lions Clubs International recognizes twenty of its more than 50,000 clubs worldwide that conduct exceptionally innovative and high-impact service projects. Only 3 youth groups received this award for 2019-20. The club, which has members from all over the state, was recognized for their “Together We CAN” food drive and sculpture competition project held December 14, 2019.
The club’s community needs assessment identified hunger as a major need in the community for many years. According to statistics published in 2019, more than 1 million people (or about 1 in 8) struggle with food insecurity in New Jersey and more than 37 million people (or about 1 in 6) struggle with food insecurity in the United States. This issue is compounded during the holiday season and the wintertime.
The initiative took existing food service initiatives and put a unique spin, tasking more than 25 participating teams with creating sculptures from the nearly 6,000 pounds of canned and nonperishable food collected. The sculptures, with the gracious support of the Edison Mayor, Tom Lankey, were constructed and displayed in the council chambers of Edison to bring awareness to the plight of food insecurity in the local area. All the collected food and water was donated to local food pantries like Hands of Hope.
Leo Ojas Chitnis, who serves as the U.S. representative on Leo Club’s international board, served as the project chairperson and remarked, “The biggest issue in combating food insecurity, especially in our community, is that people are unaware about these issues. The project was important because it both served to help our local food pantries meet the needs of the community and raise awareness to help others combat food insecurity in their own communities. This project was also impactful because it helped to increase collaboration amongst students across our area, which will help them to achieve their goals and support future humanitarian efforts.”
The project demonstrated the power of community partnerships, as the club partnered with a number of humanitarian and community organizations to amplify their service, including the Sayreville War Memorial High School chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the Edison-Metuchen Chapter of NAACP, and the Edison Job Corps Center. The Edison Visionary, Menlo Park, Old Bridge Visionary and New Jersey Renaissance Lions Clubs, along with their affiliated Leo Clubs, were partners in the project, as well.