Jett and Luke Justin, 11, founded the Boca Raton Cereal Drive Alliance to collect cereal to give to Boca Helping Hands for distribution to underserved people. Last month the drive collected more than 2,700 boxes from seven schools to go with more than 2,500 that General Mills donated. Photo provided
By Janis Fontaine
Eleven-year-old twins Jett and Luke Justin of Boca Raton have extra-large spirits of giving for their age.
Since they were 7, the youngsters have volunteered for Boca Helping Hands, a nonprofit in Boca Raton that feeds hungry people, provides job training and mentoring and distributes vouchers for medical and dental care.
Jett and Luke, along with their parents, Eric and Lukana Justin, would spend a few hours most Fridays after school filling pantry bags with food for underserved people in the community. Luke and Jett noticed that there were more lunch and dinner foods than breakfast foods. Where was the cereal?
The boys were concerned.
“We knew that eating breakfast helps with academic performance,” Luke said.
“And the kids were missing out on the deliciousness of cereal,” Jett added.
The boys decided to hold a cereal drive at school. They asked their classmates at Calusa Elementary to donate boxes of cereal that the boys could deliver to Boca Helping Hands so it would end up in the pantry bags they and other volunteers packed.
The first year they collected 500 boxes of cereal. If the average box of cereal provides 10 breakfasts, that’s 5,000 times kids were assured tasty meals.
That made the twins feel good. But it also made them want to do more.
Last year, Jett (older by 30 seconds) and Luke reached out to four other elementary schools. The brothers went to the schools and spoke to students about the cereal drive, which they renamed the Boca Raton Cereal Drive Alliance. That year, the alliance collected 1,800 boxes of cereal.
Last month, from March 1 to 8, the twins held their annual cereal drive. The alliance is now active in seven schools — Calusa, Addison Mizner, Boca Raton Elementary, Del Prado, Sandpiper Shores, Sunrise Park and Verde Elementary — and it collected more than 2,700 boxes of cereal.
Then, on March 12, the fifth-graders were summoned to Boca Helping Hands on a ruse and got a huge surprise when General Mills showed up with a donation of its own: six pallets of cereal — more than 2,500 boxes. The donation was so big they needed a forklift to move it.
The cereal was hidden behind a big truck, which then was moved to reveal the stacks of cereal the company was donating to these champions of Cheerios.
“We were shocked,” Jett said.
“And so thankful,” Luke said.
The boys had written three letters to General Mills asking for a small donation of cereal and received no reply. The folks reading the mail at General Mills get a lot of letters from people asking for help. The Justins stood out for their persistence and their age, but what got the attention of decision-makers was that the boys were doing something to make changes, not just writing letters to ask for help.
“The letter from Luke and Jett stood out,” said Mike Siemienas, brand media relations manager for General Mills. “We were really impressed with what they were accomplishing. They created the cereal drive and it’s grown over the last three years. One of General Mills’ missions is to be a force for good, so we wanted to recognize Luke and Jett. Their efforts show that no matter how old you are, you can make a difference in your community.”
Greg Hazle, executive director of Boca Helping Hands for the past 18 months, said, “I didn’t know they were a legend. It’s so heart-warming and inspiring to see kids so young learning lessons about helping other people.”
Boca Helping Hands would prefer that all the cereal donated be the best nutritionally, meaning low in sugar, but right now, the twins aren’t thinking about that. They want donations and will take what they can get. Jett loves Lucky Charms (loaded with sugar), but Luke loves classic Cheerios (much better nutritionally), so the difference is on their radar.
Hazle says children volunteers are fairly common, but the twins took it a step further by offering a solution to a problem.
During each cereal drive, Jett and Luke get to ride along when Boca Helping Hands vans go to pick up the donated cereal from schools. They like to personally thank the students who led the cereal drives at their schools.
Luke says he’s grateful that kids are so willing to help.
Jett’s the big-picture one: “Helping the poor in the community helps the community overall.”
To donate to Boca Raton Cereal Drive Alliance, visit cereal4all.org.
The boys are learning to code so they’re changing the site on a regular basis.