- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Going door to door to deliver food to total strangers in one of the District’s roughest neighborhoods would test the faith of even the most religious person.

But Claribell Aririguzo of Houston walked unflinchingly yesterday through the Barry Farms housing project in Southeast, saying she understands such hardship.

As she and Baylor University classmate Maya Mills prepared to feed hundreds of needy families, Miss Aririguzo, 22, said she had done volunteer work in the biggest project building in Waco, Texas.

“Maya and I were two of only four girls out there in [Waco]. We love this kind of stuff.”

They were among roughly 2,000 high school and college students from across the country hustling through D.C. streets yesterday to hand out supplies of beans, dry milk, potatoes, pudding, rice and other food for holiday meals — which they called “boxes of love.” Each box contained enough food to feed four persons.

The $50,000 gift to residents was part of the six-day, 2004 Impact Movement conference in the District that teaches black youths how to become future urban leaders.

“For students to give up their Christmas vacation and attend Impact is a genuine indication of their commitment to be a part of the solution to many of this country’s urban issues,” said Charles Gilmer, president of the Impact Movement. “Our students have a great deal of excitement about this. They want to be foot soldiers.”

Conference participants came from as far away as California, Oregon and Texas and went to 34 city neighborhoods, said Dennis Talbert, an Impact Movement spokesman.

“It’s about showing people of the neighborhood that we care,” said Akanimo Uvi, 21, a Los Angeles native and University of California at Los Angeles student. “I don’t feel I deserve any [accolades]. I did it to share a message of love. It’s about loving our people.”

The organization, which began in 1991, has more than 67 affiliates at 97 colleges and universities throughout the country. The affiliates help the youths through a variety of programs that include tutoring and mentoring.

Area affiliates gave the group a list of some of the neediest neighborhoods in the city, Mr. Talbert said. The students then set out at 11 a.m. yesterday to deliver more than 3,000 boxes.

“The response from the residents has been overwhelming,” said Sharon Holland, an organizer for YoungLives, a neighborhood mentoring center for teen mothers and one of the area affiliates working with Impact Movement.

She said that because Impact Movement had brought students into communities throughout the year, students such as Miss Aririguzo and Miss Mills gained respect for the residents. She also said it shows the program maintains a “level of consistency.”

Jamilah Armstrachan, a Howard University student, said her hometown of Portland, Ore., also has some tough neighborhoods, but nothing like Barry Farms.

“It blew my mind how some of the children here are so alert and aware of their surroundings,” said Miss Armstrachan, 22. “One 10-year-old kid said he heard a man say if another person wished him a ‘Happy New Year,’ he would shoot him. And he did.”

She also said the Impact Movement message was not lost on the children they encountered, nor did their efforts go unnoticed by their elders.

“An old lady getting off a bus came up and said, ‘Aren’t y’all the group that hands out canned goods and teaches about Jesus?’ The older people really appreciate and recognize what we’re doing.”

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