By Jordan Unger
Youngstown State University students held a carnival for children at Harding Elementary School last week to deliver donated clothing, food and other resources to impoverished families as the culmination of a year-long collection effort.
PAYO, a service project started last year to raise poverty awareness and help children who live in poverty, orchestrated the event.
Indoor and outdoor activities were organized for the children — face-painting, a chemistry show, a selfie station, corn hole and a petting area with alpacas. YSU volunteers also helped give donations to the families that attended the event.
A variety of YSU organizations came together for the event. Volunteers gave Harding Elementary School families donated books, nonperishable food items, hygiene products and clothing at the carnival.
Nearly 500 children and parents attended the carnival, and 35 YSU students volunteered. Megan Evans, the president and co-founder of PAYO, said that the turnout was an improvement from the first event.
“Last year we had about 50 people from Harding come to collect donations and about 15 students from YSU who mostly came from the [Student Government Association] and Honors,” Evans said. “We have definitely expanded way beyond that with more student organizations coming and bringing their own little touch to everything.”
Members from the YSU Student Art Association brought a 5 by 7 foot canvas for the children to paint on. John Elias, a volunteer from SAA, said that their goal was to encourage the kids to be artistic.
“As an artist myself, I think that it is very interesting to promote art to children because it isn’t promoted in schooling as much as it should be,” Elias said.
The American Chemistry Association had YSU students perform a chemistry show at the carnival for the kids in attendance.
Samantha Mock, the secretary of YSU’s American Chemistry Association, said she enjoyed promoting her interests to the children at Harding.
“I am a chemistry major and I love science, so sharing it with little kids and getting them interested at a young age is very important for me,” Mock said. “We always need more scientists in the world.”
In addition, students from the Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union, the American Dental Association, Ice Hockey Club, the Honors College and SGA volunteered at the carnival.
PAYO has collected donations on campus at planned events since September. Evans said that the carnival was a success due to these promotions.
“By having at least one thing happen every month, it allowed people to recognize the name PAYO,” Evans said.
Volunteers at the carnival said that the response from the Harding students was generally positive. Ashley Orr, the co-founder of PAYO and president of SGA, said the carnival felt like Christmas morning to her.
“They’re all smiles, and it’s really rewarding,” Orr said.
Harding families were given tickets upon entry to collect donations from the giveaway. In Harding Elementary School’s cafeteria, tables were set up with more than 1,000 books, 600 nonperishable goods, 350 hygiene products and clothes from PAYO’s collections.
Orr said that the children would stop at the book table to read their new books.
“They were supposed to be moving on, but they were reading it,” Orr said. “It is really nice to see them happy with something they are getting.”
Evans said she would like to see the event expand further next year.
“Right now we are just impacting one elementary school, and it would be great if we could impact every single [Youngstown] elementary school,” Evans said. “Ideally, my dream for next year, I would like to partner with YSU as an entire entity.”
Evans hopes that PAYO can conduct a larger carnival in downtown Youngstown in the future. It would be a dream come true for Evans to involve the restaurants downtown and all YSU organizations.
The Harding Elementary School faculty were also proud of the carnival’s success. Kelly Swiger, the assistant vice principal of Harding and Evans’ consultant at the school, said the YSU team did a phenomenal job.
“It is unbelievably organized,” Swiger said. “When I walked in to see all of the parents and families, it just brings you to tears.”