On Friday, June 24, the Think Big Youth Organization completed a community service project in the form of a ruck march, from Fort Stewart’s Army Education Center to the Liberty County Manna House.
Forty-six students, parents and members of the community met that morning for Operation Fill-a-Ruck, with backpacks and rucksacks containing canned and nonperishable food items to donate to the local food bank, as well as to raise awareness about food disparity.
Walking in twos down West General Stewart Way, North Main Street, and ending at the local food bank on Memorial Drive, students actively participated in Operation Fill-a-Ruck as part of their Character Does Matter Camp program. The six-week- long camp, which takes place at the Georgia Southern University Liberty campus and is in its second year, is free to all participants and encourages a culture of mentoring and safety, where discussions about real-life issues are highly encouraged.
“Even though we’re coming to Georgia Southern to have some fun, we’re going to do some work as well,” said Demmentrice Jefferson, Character Does Matter Camp leader and creator. “What we’re doing this summer is talking about character, and each week we talk about a different one.”
The characters are an integral part of the Travis Manion Foundation, a nationally recognized organization that prides itself on strengthening communities through programs, trainings and service projects. Hinesville’s chapter of the foundation was officially established in March 2022, partnering with the Think Big Youth Organization to help continue to create opportunities for youth through the Character Does Matter Camp, afterschool and mentorship programs, and various community projects such as this one.
After completing the ruck march, students and participants then unpacked and laid out the donated items on a table. Numerous contributions, from canned vegetables and beans to ramen packets and cases of Stove Top stuffing, overflowed the area where the marchers were gathered.
“Pastor Deason is very gracious to have us here, and she is very grateful to have us here,” Tracy Jefferson, Think Big founder, announced to the group. “You guys did a great job.”
The Liberty County Manna House, which helps to fight against food disparity by distributing donations and operating a soup kitchen, was happy to partner with the local youth organization.
Rev. Katrina Deason said she liked how the event involved students and that the amount of donations received came as a welcome surprise to her and the volunteers that day.
“[The donations] were quite a bit more than we were expecting,” Deason said. “The students did an excellent job.”
As with everything in which the Think Big Youth Organization is involved, above all else, the objective was to bring the community together and make a lasting impact. Demmentrice Jefferson made sure to drive that point home.
“What we’re doing, this is what teamwork is. We’re coming together as a unit, as a group, to do something in honor of somebody else,” he said.