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A large cardboard box sits empty on a living room floor. It’s nothing special—just a plain, brown box with the words “this side up” printed on one of its sides. But slowly, as items begin to be placed inside of it, it fills. A few cans of Spam, running shoes, toothpaste, and other goods are piled in. It’s packed full and taped shut. An address is scribbled across the front of it and, just like that, it’s ready to go.

They call it a balikbayan box: a box full of goods that is sent to communities in need. Each year, thousands of overseas Filipinos send them back to their native communities in the Philippines. Inspired by this, an organization called Lola’s Foundation is using the concept of the balikbayan box in a very special way: to assist underprivileged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Analisa Hightower, founder and board member of Lola’s Foundation, created the organization to carryout the legacy of her own lola, or grandmother, who was the inspiration behind the charity's concept. "Throughout my life, Lola instilled many values in me. The most important of which is that I always need to help people," said Hightower. "She always stressed education and healthy living, and taught me that people are born into circumstances beyond their control, and if we are fortunate enough to be able to  help others, we should."

In its efforts to do this, Lola's Foundation joined forces with the University of California, Berkeley to gather new and gently used school and art supplies that UC students no longer need, and redistribute them to those in need. "Establishing the Berkeley Initiative has been our biggest accomplishment, as it’s a long-term relationship that is beneficial to the community," said Hightower. The foundation collects the items, which would otherwise be thrown out, at the end of the University's school year.

Still in its beginning stages of development, Lola's Foundation is made up of only seven team members, their various family members, and several companies in northern California. Small as they are, the organization is making a large impact; they have aided some of the East Bay's most underprivileged schools, donated to various in-need shelters, and have helped to spread the word on how community members can do the same.

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As Lola’s Foundation continues to expand and reach more people, it aims to establish ties with more college and university campuses throughout the United States, and bring more volunteers on board to provide additional help and manpower. For now, its efforts are largely focused on its local community and helping it to the best of their ability. As Hightower says, Lola's Foundation "is filled with passionate people who have the desire to give back to the community any way [they] can."

L E A R N + C O N N E C T
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