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June 1, 2002

Girl Power

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Amber, 18, founded Happy Helpers for the Homeless at age 10.

Mission: To distribute hundreds of free lunches to the homeless every week.

One of Amber Coffman's earliest memories is of her mother dragging her to a local shelter to volunteer as a playmate for kids. A few years later, while writing a book report on Mother Teresa, 10-year-old Amber was inspired to return to the shelter on her own.

"I'm drawn to the homeless," she says, "because I'm the daughter of a single working mother and things haven't been easy for us. But I knew I couldn't provide shelter like Mother Teresa did, so I tried to come up with something doable -- and that's when I hit on lunches."

Amber spent days soliciting donations from groceries and restaurants in and around her hometown of Glen Burnie, MD.

"Most of the owners didn't take me seriously or were worried about being liable if someone got sick," she says.

Finally, she talked McDonald's into donating buns and cheese and convinced the local 7-Eleven to let her use its refrigerator for storage. In February 1993, Amber, with the help of her mother and a few volunteers, made and distributed her first 50 lunches to the homeless. Today, her organization, Happy Helpers for the Homeless, enlists the help of 50 young volunteers to serve 600 lunches a week in the Baltimore area, and chapters have sprung up all over America. Kids have even called with inquiries from Guam and Canada.

If you are interested in getting involved with Happy Helpers, call Amber at (410) 766-4973.

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