Traditionally, birthday celebrations bring balloons, a big cake and surprising gifts. For 13-year-old Gian and 9-year-old Gianina, their birthdays are another chance to celebrate an annual fundraiser to give back to to the community.
For the past four years, Gian and Gianina have gathered volunteers together in Southern California to package Rise Against Hunger meals in celebration of their birthdays. It all started when Gian wrote down three wishes for a class assignment in school. “This movement all began in 4th grade when my teacher asked the class to write down three wishes and of course, my last wish was to end world hunger,” he said. To make his wish come true, in 2016 for his 10th birthday, Gian decided to celebrate by hosting a meal packaging event with his sister. With over 120 volunteers participating, the event resulted in more than 14,000 meals packaged.
This year, the duo celebrated packaging 75,000 meals at their annual event. Over the years, the package meals have reached beneficiaries in Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, El Salvador and their family’s own country of origin, the Philippines. Gian and Gianina believe that “a world without hunger #IsPossible.” With a goal of reaching a total of 100,000 meals at the next annual event, their hope is to continue to serve others and bring people together. Ultimately, their dream is to inspire people to support an end to hunger, raise awareness and join hands to make a difference.
When giving a speech at the annual event, Gian left the participants with inspiring words by saying, “Our Birthday fundraiser created a sense of purpose in us as a family. We give back. We pay it forward and we are making a difference in our own little ways. More importantly, it taught us to be compassionate and generous because our mom always told us that the poor and the needy are all parts of our larger selves.”
The highlight of the events for Gian and Gianni each year are meeting new people and making new friends while doing something they love. “Our volunteers are truly the heart of this fundraiser and we are very thankful to them for all of their support,” Gian expressed. Each year, there are volunteers of all ages and they’re always excited to celebrate Gian and Gianina’s birthdays and the opportunity to give back.
Here’s what their fellow volunteers had to say:
“We look forward to celebrating G&G ‘s birthday every year because it’s such a fun event and makes us feel like we are contributing to their cause of ending world hunger!”
-Jacob (age 12) & Jamie Wang, Irvine, CA
“I had a great time learning about Rise Against Hunger and the ways that local communities can help impact the global community. It was a great experience for my girls to learn there is a world out there outside of themselves and how we can help.”
-Catherine Hahn, Irvine, CA
“As a coach and a mom of two kids, I thought Rise Against Hunger was an excellent fundraiser to participate in. It gave the kids in our area a chance to actually see what many people from all over the world have as food resources. Some of our kids for the first time realized that many children go without food for a day or more. I know I walked out of there with a new appreciation for where I live and the food my children and I have to eat every day. I know the swimmers I coach walked out of there with a new appreciation for their lives as well. It was nice to be part of a week run organization working to improve the lives of so many.”
-Wendy Theders, Swim Coach for Irvine Novaquatics
“It’s great to see our youth getting involved with these types of projects; it brings not only awareness but empathy for other children in different parts of the world. It was a great event for a worthy cause.”
-Cathy Benoit, Tacoma WA
“The whole experience changes people. When Blake was volunteering, he knew he was helping kids. By watching the video, he recognized the bags he once held. They are now in the hands of the kids he heard so much about. In his mind, it created a bridge between him and the children he was helping. I’m sure
it will have a whole new meaning next year again when he volunteers.”
-Yvonne McKinley (grandma) and Blake Lezak (age 7), Trabuco, CA
“My experience with Gian and Gianina’s birthday fundraiser was amazing. I have never been to an event where the atmosphere was so incredibly positive. You can see how close the family is and how deep their friendships run. Gian and Gianina’s speech really touched my heart; I actually shared it with my coworkers because it impacted me so much. Mae’s children are a testament to her and her husband; they are raising two incredible individuals, it makes me hopeful for their generation. From start to finish, this was by far one of my favorite events to be a part of and I hope to do it again next year.”
-Ashley Washington, Rise Against Hunger Event Facilitator