Peter (PJ) Forgione, 14, of South Burlington, Vermont, an eighth-grader at Christ the King School, spearheaded an effort to fill shoeboxes with useful and fun items for 100 service members in Iraq, and organizes dinners for people at an emergency shelter. Last summer, PJ was eating lunch at a restaurant when he struck up a conversation with a World War II veteran who survived D-Day. “It got me thinking about the sacrifices our troops make every day and how thankful I am for their service and our country,” he said. PJ wanted a way to give back to these brave men and women. Then he learned about Operation Shoebox, a nonprofit organization that sends shoeboxes filled with snacks, toiletries and games to soldiers. He set a goal of filling 100 boxes for the nonprofit and went to work. At first he tried to raise money by doing chores and odd jobs. When that effort fell short, PJ asked his friends to bring items for his shoeboxes instead of presents on his birthday, and persuaded his school to conduct a collection drive. The parcels arrived to troops in Iraq just in time for Christmas.
For many years, PJ also has helped his family provide dinners at Anew Place, an emergency shelter for people in need in Burlington. But as an eighth grader, PJ decided he wanted to host a dinner himself. After recruiting friends to help, he plans the menu, shops for groceries, picks vegetables from his family garden, cooks the food at home, and loads it into his mother’s car for transport to the shelter. Some nights he serves as many as 26 people, he said. PJ was especially motivated to serve people at the shelter after learning that a significant percentage of homeless people are military veterans. He has also been making regular visits to residents of a long-term care facility since he was in second grade, and has made more than $3,000 in charitable contributions to causes including hunger and hurricane relief.