ORANGE PARK – Ridgeview High junior, Kenyatta Hogan, 16, is collecting baskets of food to donate meals to families in need this Thanksgiving.
Hogan’s nonprofit, SKOA Inc., which stands for Shawkan and Kenyatta Open Arms, began six years ago, but last Thanksgiving was the first time she handed out meals to families. She was able to feed 40 families and this year’s drive is on track to beat that.
“The drive is something I started doing last year because I know there’s a lot of families in Clay County that, during Thanksgiving, they might not have enough money to actually go out and get the traditional Thanksgiving meal or something like that,” Hogan said. “So, I decided to do this drive to give those families the meal everyone should be able to have on this holiday.”
Hogan said that she works with local schools to find students in families that could use the holiday help. After creating meal baskets with the help of local businesses and organizations, Hogan personally delivers those baskets to the families in need.
She was nervous about doing this last year – Hogan is admittedly shy – but it only took the smiles and warmth she felt after delivering the first basket to get over that feeling.
“At first it was awkward because I’m not too open around people, so I was really scared and nervous about going to these strangers’ houses, but I knew they needed this,” Hogan said. “In that way, this drive helped me conquer my fear while also bringing me such a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
“Seeing the people smile when they open the door, seeing how surprised they are and hearing how grateful they are, you understand what some people go through on the holidays. A Thanksgiving meal isn’t a guarantee for everyone, and this drive helps families in that situation.”
Hogan started SKOA Inc., to help people in need of food and other essentials. When she was younger, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother had a job, but the chemotherapy made it difficult to work leaving the family periodically unable to pay for food. Hogan’s family searched for help in Clay County but were often turned away.
“They would turn us away and turn us down because my mom still had a job,” Hogan said. “And it’s like, yes, she does have a job, but she can’t always work because of the cancer treatments.”
SKOA Inc. was born out of Hogan’s desire to help families in similar situations find the help her family looked for years ago.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit has grown to accomplish so much more each year with the Thanksgiving basket drive serving as just one operation in a calendar full of events and drives.
Hogan has received baskets from throughout Clay County, the latest being the Orange Park Police Department who donated enough food and supplies to feed two families this Thanksgiving. She hopes to work with more schools, businesses and organizations in the area to feed as many families as possible later this month.
SKOA Inc. accepts donations from anyone willing to help. If you’re interested in donating a basket or supplies to create one, you can reach the nonprofit at email@example.com or 904-514-5766.
“This drive makes me feel so happy,” Hogan said. “‘I like to give back to people in any way I can, so this is really fun for me. I get to meet new people and put together these baskets for them and ultimately, bring happiness and a meal to a family in need, a family that deserves a Thanksgiving meal like everyone else.”