If you have the opportunity to visit the Fuqua-Jones household, one thing is for certain: you won’t be leaving with an empty stomach.

“There is an open-pantry policy at my house,” explained Sophia, an eighth grader at Nevin Platt Middle School. This means that any of Sophia’s friends and classmates are welcome to stop by and get food from her house — no questions asked. “It has really helped my friends, who know they can come here before or after school to grab a snack.”

Her family’s passion for helping others can be traced back to Sophia’s grandmother, who served as the principal at a school where 95% of the students were on free and reduced lunch. “Even though my mom and dad always had jobs and we never worried about food, we knew that wasn’t the case for everyone around us,” shared Sophia’s mom, Gabrielle.

Once the pandemic hit, Sophia’s friends couldn’t stop by her house on the way to school or before practice to grab a snack like they used to. And on top of that, even more of their friends and neighbors were hurting. “We started delivering groceries instead,” said Gabrielle. It began with helping three to four families get by, but they quickly became both their community’s safety net and cheerleaders by showing up whenever and however they were needed.

“Something I learned is that the families who need help aren’t always comfortable accepting it,” remarked Gabrielle. “Sometimes you have to find a way to help them that they are comfortable with, which might just mean bringing them a Starbucks.”

With her mom leading the way, Sophia has grown up giving back in many ways. As a Girl Scout with Troop 70179, Sophia started volunteering with Community Food Share when she was in second grade. “I would stand outside of King Soopers with my friends and hand out bags for the food drives,” Sophia recalled. “We made it competitive with who handed out the most bags, and later who collected the most money. We once raised $600 in a two-hour shift!”

Six years later, Sophia and Troop 70179 have gotten creative with how they support our food bank. This year, they donated Easter baskets to help low-income families celebrate the holiday. Each basket came complete with Easter eggs, a toy and stuffed animal, a pollinator garden kit, and a Black History coloring book that Sophia and her friend created themselves.

“We started the [coloring book] project because in the summer when we were riding our bikes, my friends got racially profiled more than once,” she explained. “We wanted to do something about it, because it’s not okay.”

The labor of love that Sophia and Gabrielle have put into making their community a better place ripples beyond the people they help — it brings meaning to their lives, too, and has made their relationship stronger.

“I’ve learned so much from my daughter,” said Gabrielle. “She makes friends with everyone that she likes — they just need to be kind. She’s brought a lot of special people into my life.”

“I’m very proud to bring my friends over and say, ‘this is my mom,’” Sophia responded. “I learned a lot from my mom about how to give and be generous, and I think I will pass that down to my own family one day because I see how important it is.”

You can download Sophia’s coloring book here.

Photos of Troop 70179 volunteering for our food drives over the years provided courtesy of Gabrielle Fuqua.