Aeropostale's Teens for Jeans clothing drive already was well under way last year when Davies Middle School principal Stephen Santilli tipped National Junior Honor Society co-advisor Dan Weber off to the project.
The Society, a student group for standout eighth-graders that does service projects about once per month during the school year, mounted a small effort, but didn't generate much in terms of donations.
"It wasn't organized," Weber said. "We didn't have the kids involved. It's better when the kids go around and they talk to them, and they talk at lunch, or they go to the homerooms and they get their friends involved."
This year's version of the drive, which collects second-hand jeans for homeless teenagers in a donor's local community, began Jan. 14 and ends Feb. 10. Each person who participates receives a 25 percent off coupon for a new pair of jeans. Aeropostale accepts donations from individuals as well as organizations.
A grand prize of a $10,000 grant, Aeropostale hoodies emblazoned with the winning school's name, and a party will be given to the school that collects the most jeans.
With a year to plan their involvement, this year's effort has been strong, Weber said. While he doesn't recall just how many they brought in last year, he said the more than 100 jeans they've gathered so far dwarfs last year's effort.
Student Patrick Elkner, who runs the drive along with fellow student and NJHS member Joseph Fraone, said he was surprised at how quickly students have responded.
"I was impressed at the amount we actually gained in just a week's time," Patrick, 13, said Jan. 23. "I did not expect this many so quickly."
To get the word out, NJHS members spoke and showed an Aeropostale-produced Teens for Jeans video at lunches before the start of the drive. They've also made a bulletin board at the school, complete with a meter and updated tally of their collection.
While Elkner and Fraone are in charge of planning the project, each of the 48 NJHS members is involved. The group has been split into groups of two, and they visit homerooms before school to collect jeans, which are piled in the library. The drive has been split into three segments, with eight of these groups collecting in a given period.
Getting out of homeroom to do some good has been a big draw, NJHS president Lucie Pham said.
"In the morning, homeroom is kind of boring, so they like going around and being with their friends and it feels good to do it, and I think that's the best part," Lucie, 13, said.
While Weber and his co-advisor, Michele Giardino, oversee the group, they're more facilitators, preferring to let the students take charge. They make suggestions of projects and tell students what their predecessors have done, but the final decisions are up to the students.
So far, the Teens For Jeans program has proven to be a big hit, not just with the NJHS students, but with the school at large. The relatability of the program, Lucie said, has gone a long way in terms of its popularity.
"I'm wearing jeans every day, and it's hard for me to think about kids that don't have jeans, because they're such a normal part of my life," Lucie said. "I just like helping. It's nice."
For information about the drive, visit dosomething.org/ teensforjeans. Community members can drop jeans off at the school from 8 to 1:30 p.m. on school days until Feb. 8. Davies school is at 1876 Dr. Dennis Foreman Drive in Mays Landing.
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