MERIDEN — Mea Sky Wallen learned the value of paying it forward from her parents Vanessa and Ken Wallen by donating outgrown and unwanted toys and clothing. But it’s not everyday a nine-year-old and her sister give up their Thanksgiving holiday to help the less fortunate.
It troubled the Middlefield fourth-grader to see people without warm coats and hats in the cold weather. So Mea informed her mother and her aunt Carmen Chaparro, who is the Membership and Community Engagement Director at the Meriden-New Britain YMCA, she wanted to do something to help. And the effort to warm those in need took shape.
With the help of John Lyman Elementary School, Home Depot, and Browology on East Main Street, Mea collected and distributed about 100 coats, blankets, scarves, hats and mittens to people who came for the Y’s annual Thanksgiving dinner Thursday. And with the help of her parents and sister Emma, 5, they donated goods to local shelters, as well.
“I hope everyone that came is happy of what they got and I hope they are well fed, because they are probably hungry,” Mea wrote in prepared remarks prior to an interview with the Record-Journal. “I would also like to thank my sister for helping me pass out gloves, blankets, jackets and sweaters. I got a lot of donations.”
Chaparro said it was not unusual to have children help serve when the YMCA hosted sit-down community holiday dinners, but the massive effort shifted to delivery and takeout during the pandemic and has stayed that way. Other coat drive efforts have always been handled by adults.
“This is the first time we had a child want to help out the community with coats and blankets,” Chaparro said. “We’re hoping other children will see that they can follow their heart and do something for others. She’s a good role model for young people and adults.”
The Y prepared well over 500 meals and delivered many to people homebound in the community. They also had plenty of walk-ins, but were surprised by the numbers of homeless people and panhandlers who arrived to stock up on food for the next few days. Chaparro helped them out by providing containers to store leftovers.
Vanessa Wallen said her daughter has always been a generous soul and positive role model for her younger sister. The effort was all her daughter’s work and Mea’s efforts were appreciated by the folks who walked away with new winter gear.
“They applauded her and thanked her,” Wallen said as she teared up with pride.
The coat drive continues at Lyman Elementary School throughout November, and at Browology and the Y through December. Mea and her family will attend the Y’s annual Christmas dinner to hand out more winter wear and blankets.
Mea is grateful she has her family, her home and her health, she said. Although not quite sure what her future holds, she’s certain she will be in a job where she can assist others.
“It felt good knowing I was helping people,” Mea said.