This article can be found published on the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
Madeline Wiley isn’t a normal 5-year-old girl.
Sure, she loves to run around and play other children her age just like every other kid, but what sets her apart is what else she loves to do: charity work.
“Every year we decide to do a good deed for the year and she came up with this idea,” said Nicole Wiley, her mother. “She said, ‘Let’s have a really big goal.’ I asked how big and she said 20,000 pounds [of food]. I’m not sure how we’re going to do, but we’re going to try.”
For the last few years, the mother-daughter duo has been collecting food with smaller drives and volunteering with Philabundance, but now they are taking this task on with full force.
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“I have a blog and I put it on there to hold myself accountable” Wiley said. “[Madeline] is pretty involved. She’ll help me collect and she’ll go to the store with me to pick up the food and package it. She’s the president of our organization.”
That organization and the blog is called the Best Dressed Tomboy, which started at the beginning of 2012 as just a place for Wiley to anonymously keep anecdotes about Madeline, but it has grown from there.
“It’s becoming something I can print off and give to her someday so she can know me as somebody other than mom,” Wiley said. “Madeline is my Best Dressed Tomboy. The name came from when she and I would both eat dirt in a fancy dress. That’s one of the things we have in common.”
It’s been a little bit of slow going during the first couple months of the drive, but Wiley has been trying to get the word out as best she can online through her Facebook page and the blog, but she has reached out to friends to help as well.
Wiley just happened to be friends Mary Williams Veale, one of the ladies of Bizzigirls, a hyper-local social marketing organization which tries to spotlight others in the area for the good of the community.
“I’ve been following their mission and when I told her about this crazy idea, she had said, ‘You come with us and we’ll help you,’” Wiley said. “They have done so much just to get us the visibility because that has been the biggest challenge. If we’re going to get to 20,000 pounds, we’re going to have to expand to people we don’t know.”
What Bizzigirls did was set up an event at the Mendenhall Inn called the Sip N Shop, held Feb. 20. Locals came out to enjoy discounted prices on drinks and food and shopped at a handful of local vendors, who set up tables in the tavern. Twenty percent of those vendor sales went directly to the drive.
People who came to the event could bring a monetary or can donation as well. The Wileys aren’t at all picky about how the collections are made. If they receive money, they go shopping and buy the food to add to the ever-growing supply.
Everything which has been collected so far has been stored in their basement. It isn’t a small feat when you consider they’ve already collected 1,100 pounds of food coming into the event and they were hoping for a lot more to come out of it.
“The goal for [the event] is 1,000 pounds,” Wiley said. “Simultaneously, I’m having a food drive at my employer where my goal is 2,000 pounds, so by the end of March, I’d like to be at 5,000.”
The final count when all was said and done with the event has brought the Wileys up to 2,033 pounds.
Everything raised so far will go to the Kennett Food Cupboard, but Wiley will distribute to other area cupboards as well as the drives continues throughout the year.
The plan is to have similar drives throughout the Philadelphia area and even venture into the southern part of New Jersey.
“We’re trying to get to as many avenues as we can,” Wiley said. “In the spring, we’re going to do similar drives in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and have them benefit that area. We’ll try to distribute where the donors live.”
The one thing that the drives bring to light is the kindness it brings out in people.
“It’s crazy and it’s so humbling,” Wiley said. “I can’t believe how generous people have been. I’ll come home from work and there’s just bags of cans on my doorstep. People have been so overwhelmingly positive and I think that’s because Madeline is so interested in it.”
Madeline was the one who came up with the idea and she also happened to be the first one to contribute.
“She was my first donor,” Wiley said. “She gives me money out of her allowance every week and she’ll come with me and pick out the food with that. I’m stunned.”
Wiley is beyond impressed with everything her daughter has done at her young age.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of that,” she said. “If she’s outgrown her clothes, she wants to donate them. She’s always been very good at sharing and when she told me she wanted to do this, I said, ‘If you want to do something good in the world, I’ll do whatever I can to help you.’ I just don’t even have words for how proud I am.”