design: Mazzy Seigneur
“Santa doesn’t come for me,” words that although heartbreaking to most, were a call to action for Robin McAllister-Zaas. She is the creator of the Mirth Project, an organization based out of Columbus that provides gifts for low-income teens.
McAllister-Zaas started the project in 2017 after her daughter overheard a conversation between two young kids at the Worthington Resource Pantry in which one informed the other that they do not receive gifts on Christmas.
“That comment just hit something different and I spent the next year exploring Christmas projects in Columbus. What I found was several for young children but next to none for teens and so the Mirth Project was born,” McAllister-Zaas said.
This year the project partnered with Scholar House 3, a place where teens too old for foster care who are going to college are able to live rent free.
“Most of them have very little money and have said they do not always have access to food. So, we are actively seeking donations and organizations to support filling their joint pantry so that they don’t have to go hungry if they don’t have food some days,” McAllister-Zaas said.
According to Mirth Project volunteer since 2017, Lynn Pomponio, helping teens and giving to others is the best part about volunteering with the project.
She mentions that the opportunity to provide hope and encouragement to others is what makes the project so special. She also highlights the uniqueness of helping teenagers.
“My family appreciates being able to help those of all age groups, and this provides a wonderful opportunity to help older children. We have to remember that teenagers are still children too,” Pomponio said.
She says not every present needs to be expensive, rather, the effort and meaning behind even the smallest of gifts can be life-altering.
“It might be a meal, a gift or even just a few kind words that can make a difference in someone’s day, year or life,” Pomponio said.
In February 2021, the Mirth Project became a registered 501 C3 charity. This designation means it is a non-profit organization that is not operated for the benefit of private interests, according to IRS.gov.
Because of this newly anointed title, a new project called Teens with Dreams will be started under the umbrella of The Mirth Project in 2022. McAllister-Zaas is leading this project as well.
They will be accepting applications for low-income teens who have a talent for something- a real goal or passion that their parents are unable to help them pursue.
“We will help them by supplying equipment, lessons and experiences as well as coaching and mentorship. They will be identified by teachers, principals, coaches and parents,” McAllister-Zaas said.
Not only is this an opportunity for high school students to get involved in the community but they also have the chance to contribute to a larger cause.
In order to get involved, students can visit the Mirth Project at website listed. There is an opportunity to donate the project or commit to a low-income family to buy the gifts for them. The forms for these opportunities will appear on the organization’s website.