Johnston graduates across U.S. raise money to feed students in hometown
An anonymous donor has paid off lunch balances for 148 students whose accounts were in the red by $10 or more.
Scott Syroka has rallied Johnston High School graduates living across the country to help hungry students in their hometown.
The 23-year-old San Francisco resident started Generation Pay it Forward, a new young alumni network. The group's first project is a weekend food program for Johnston middle school students.
Only a quarter of the alumni group's 30 founding members still live in the Des Moines area, Syroka said. The rest have moved out of Johnston to start careers or attend college.
Syroka, a 2012 Johnston graduate, said he started the group after realizing his generation — those who graduated in the past 10 years — has largely gone "untapped" when it comes to philanthropic efforts.
"We wanted to create something that anyone can be a part of," he said. "Something where you don't have to be rich or powerful or older or more established in your career to make a difference."
Generation Pay it Forward is more than halfway to its $21,000 goal to start a Friday Friends program at Summit Middle School.
Friday Friends provides backpacks for students filled with food to get through the weekend, said Andrea Cook, program director of the Johnston Partnership.
The nonprofit launched the program in 2012, and with the help of the Food Bank of Iowa, it serves 200 students at four of Johnston's five elementary schools. But the program has yet to expand beyond fifth grade.
"We don't think there's a good reason why a fifth-grader in need can go home on Friday with food for the weekend, but the moment they become a sixth-grader they can't," Syroka said. "We don't think that’s justifiable."
Cook told the young alumni group that if it raised $21,000, Friday Friends could be extended to Summit Middle School, which serves students in sixth and seventh grades.
Syroka and Generation Pay it Forward's founding members are tapping their business and social networks to raise the money. They started Aug. 24 and within a week had raised $11,000 from 100 donors, Syroka said. That doesn't include corporate matches that have been secured, he said.
"It's amazing," Cook said. "Not only does it draw that generation in, I think it inspires others who support the program or have thought about supporting the program to get involved as well."
To learn more about Generation Pay it Forward or to donate to the group's cause, visit generationpayitforward.com.