Marlton’s Girl Talk mentoring group assembles ‘Blessing Bags’ for homeless

This week the group assembled “Blessing Bags” filled with essential toiletries for the homeless through Camden and Philadelphia.

By ZANE CLARK: Dozens gathered at the Marlton Elks lodge last week to help the Girl Talk peer mentoring group assemble “Blessing Bags” filled with essential toiletries for the Unforgotten Haven charity to distribute to homeless people in Camden and Philadelphia. From left are Caroline Lenart, Ava Simkin and Sara Simkin as they help assemble bags.

Mary Beth Iannarella, chapter leader of the local Girl Talk mentoring group, wasn’t quite sure how the first night of the group’s newest community service project would turn out.

Every month, Iannarella has her girls complete a community service project, with the latest being the group’s first attempt at assembling “Blessing Bags” — bags filled with essential toiletries for the Unforgotten Haven charity in Blackwood to distribute to the homeless in Camden and Philadelphia.

Yet even only a few hours before the event, Iannarella’s online signup sheet had just a few names.

“When I was getting things together tonight, I was worried I wasn’t going to have enough stuff, and really I was just praying,” Iannarella said.

However, those worries were unfounded, as throughout the night dozens of Girl Talk members and their supporters were in and out of the Marlton Elks Lodge where the event was held to drop off supplies and assemble bags.

Volunteers packed a room at the lodge to dig through piles of toothbrushes, tissues, bars of soap, bottles of shampoo, adhesive bandages, pairs of socks and other supplies, to the point where the group assembled so many bags it couldn’t even count them all that night.

“I just put the word out one final time on Facebook and through Girl Talk and my friends, and it really came together. It really did,” Iannarella said.

The event marked another successful night and service project for Girl Talk Marlton, through which Iannarella has tried to blend fun with community service, all while allowing the older girls in the group to mentor those younger through monthly Girl Talk meetings.

Now with the local chapter in its fourth year and reaching more than 100 members, Iannarella is beginning to see those girls who came in as freshmen prepare to leave the group as seniors.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s nice to see them grow so much within the group, and they’ve done so much. They come in as awkward, shy teenagers, and by the end they’ve definitely shown their leadership skills and they’re very confident,” Iannarella said.

Speaking to the purpose of Girl Talk as a whole, Iannarella simply said the group seeks to bring young girls together in a safe place where they can be themselves and learn to deal with the difficulties that come with being young girls in today’s world.

“They teach each other that it’s OK to be you and still worry about what other people think sometimes, but you have to get yourself in check and know that things are OK, even if you have to pick yourself up,” she said.

For more information about how young girls can join Girl Talk as a young member or a mentor, or to keep updated on the group’s activities, follow the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girltalkmarlton.

Iannarella also reminds locals to be on the lookout for Girl Talk’s future monthly community service projects, which are open to all members of the public, girls and boys, kids and adults.

“Anybody can come and help,” Iannarella said.