Beginning this weekend Arnder will have a table set up outside of Lowes Foods each Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon in order to collect donations for a holiday food and toy drive. As items accumulate, she will be working with the local Salvation Army for distribution to those with need.
Arnder’s motivation for organizing the drive is simple and straightforward.
“I want to make sure that people in our area are able to have Thanksgiving and Christmas meals,” she explained. “And I would like for every child to have a new toy on Christmas morning.”
The daughter of local residents Angela and Ron Arnder, Autumn’s holiday schedule was a full one even before she decided to organize the drive. She is a member of the East Surry varsity cheerleading squad and plays volleyball for the Junior Olympic Association of Surry County. Arnder also competes regularly in pageants, an interest that she freely admits has become a passion for her.
Arnder noted that neither she nor her family knew much about pageant competition before she saw a flyer and decided to enter the 2008 Autumn Leaves Pageant. But after claiming “Miss Photogenic” in that first competition she was hooked and has since taken part in several other pageants. She currently holds two titles, Junior Miss Virginia Peach 2009 and Junior Miss Patrick County Fair 2009.
“Holding two titles can be overwhelming,” she explained. “The responsibilities that go along with a title can take up a lot of time. But it’s also really fun. I enjoy the new friends I make and it does build confidence. I especially enjoy getting to help some of the younger children who are competing.”
It was also her participation in pageants that led Arnder into community service, something she now says has changed the way she looks at the world around her.
“I decided to use community service as my platform,” she explained, “so I jumped right in (during) the summer, working at Northern Hospital of Surry County as a junior volunteer. It was a wonderful experience. Immediately, I realized I wasn’t there for the pageants, I was there to help and brighten someone’s day. I get great joy out of helping others and I believe everyone has a duty to help others whenever they can.
“My favorite part about volunteering,” Arnder continued, “was helping the elderly in the skilled nursing unit. Most days I would leave there feeling like there was more I needed to do and (I) always felt the urge to return the next day. I didn’t want it to end and I knew I wanted to do more.”
Those and other volunteer experiences, Arnder said, have helped her to mature and become more aware of situations in the lives of people around her. She has seen the effects of a struggling economy among those in her school and is now more aware of the hardships in her area.
“I’ve been blessed,” she said, “and I want to do whatever I can to help those who need it. I believe those who can have a responsibility to help others in their own community and it’s time I step up.”
According to Angela Arnder, Autumn has already asked that a traditional Christmas Eve family meal not be planned this year as she hopes the family will be serving meals to others at a local church program or soup kitchen.
Arnder will be at Lowes Foods each Saturday morning until Christmas, collecting boxed and canned non-perishable foods along with new, unwrapped toys of any size and any other donations. Family members and friends who farm have already pledged a quantity of fresh produce to get the effort off to a quick start.
”I’d like to see enough come in that something can be given for both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she noted, “but I particularly want to make sure that we’re able to help with Christmas.”