Johnson Elementary fourth grader learns lessons on serving others

Youngster’s charitable ideas extend to county women’s center.

For the entire month of February, Johnson Elementary School fourth grader Arabella Squilla has been collecting hygienic items for donation to the Camden County Women’s Center. Pictured here, in the ‘piano corner’ of her township home, are several boxes’ worth of products soon to be given to the organization at its Camden headquarters. (Photo credit: Heather Anderson/Special to the Sun)

During the month of February, Arabella Squilla collected hygiene items and other products to help women and children in need at the Camden County Women’s Center. The fourth grader at Johnson Elementary School has jumped headlong into something that belies her age and experience with the world, but it wasn’t unexpected.

Heather Anderson said her daughter was influenced by solid role models in her, as well as her grandfather.

“I used to volunteer in college, but got away from it. With the Domestic Abuse Project in Delaware County (Pennsylvania), I guess that all soaked in,” Anderson explained. 

Facing a more pressing family issue as the pandemic began, when Anderson’s father was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Arabella and her mother would often go for walks during warmer weather to get out of the house and exercise. 

“During one of these walks, she told me she wanted to fundraise, initially for my dad. But it went from there,” Anderson recalled. 

Arabella’s grandfather passed away last summer, and life was put on hold so the family could deal with its grief and associated issues. But the call to service remained, and it  was answered after the holidays. 

“On MLK day, we were looking for a day of service, so we made cookies for my dad’s hospice, and then sandwiches for Cathedral Kitchen. Arabella loved all that,” Anderson said. “We were first going to hold a sock drive, but that fell through.”

Thinking out loud what else could be done on short notice in a time when drives are generally out of fashion, Anderson came across the Women’s Center. She mentioned it to Arabella, who took to it right away.  

Arabella ended up kicking off her donation drive on Feb. 6, and items poured into her home so fast, there had to be a special corner to put them all. In addition to a donation box at her school, Arabella’s dance studio (Artists in Motion on Route 70)  allowed her to keep a box there as well.  

Anderson noted that although school is virtual at the moment, she expects to pick up the donations at Johnson Elementary sometime in early March. As of a conversation with the Sun on Feb. 23, she estimated Arabella was able to pull in roughly eight boxes of hygiene items and a small collection of diapers, shampoos and the like. 

Arabella’s original goal was to collect 100 items, but she has kept going well beyond that mark. She’s over the moon to see her dedication pay off. 

“It makes me feel very happy. And sometimes when I look, I’m surprised at how many donations we have,” she observed. 

Flush with success, Anderson wants to ensure her daughter keeps others in mind as much as possible. The family plans to take up another collection for the Women’s Center next winter, and every February after that. In the short term, they’re trying to put together a virtual 5K in honor of Arabella’s grandfather to benefit ALS charities.