THE ADVOCATE ASKS: A Saugus teenager talks about the Thanksgiving food drive he’s been running for seven years
Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with a young Saugonian who exemplifies the meaning of Thanksgiving kindness. Anthony Zannella, 16, just completed his seventh food drive for the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry — an annual project he began when he was just nine-years old. Anthony, the son of Anthony and Joann Zannella of David Drive, is in his junior year at Malden Catholic High School. An honor roll student, he plays chess and competes in track and cross country at the school. He played on the football team during his freshman and sophomore years. Anthony has a 15-year-old sister, Julianna. He likes to play the guitar in his spare time. We decided to interview Anthony, along with his parents, after learning about his unheralded community service project from an official at the Food Pantry.Some highlights of the interview follow.
Q: Anthony? How did this whole Food Drive project evolve?
Anthony: It started seven years ago when my dad lost his job. We just realized that there were less fortunate families out there who can’t afford a Thanksgiving Day meal. So, I decided to do a food drive to collect food. So, I wrote up a letter and went to the streets nearby and put it in people’s mailboxes to ask them to leave the food on my front steps.
Q: So, during that first year, you were hooked up to the (Saugus United Parish) Food Pantry?
Q: So, from the beginning, you contributed to the Food Pantry?
Q: About how many people did you help out that first year?
Anthony: We got around maybe 30 to 40 bags.
Q: Where were you going to school then?
Anthony: I was at Our Lady of the Assumption School in Lynnfield.
Q: So, was this your idea or a teacher’s idea?
Anthony: Mostly my idea.
Q: And you bounced the idea off your folks?
Q: And, how did they receive it?
Anthony: They thought it was a good idea.
Mr. Zannella: I had lost my job. And I thought it was a good idea for him to understand that there other people out there who need assistance.
Mrs. Zannella: His idea was to go out and put a sign on telephone poles. I told him, why don’t you just write a note. So he wrote the note and put it in everyone’s mailbox.
Q: So, how many mailboxes did the note go in?
Anthony: This street and the street next to us.
Q: So, what streets?
Mr. Zannella: Susan and David Drives.
Q: So, how many houses are we talking about?
Mrs. Zannella: About 35.
Anthony: About 35 or 40.
Q: So, what kind of food did you gather?
Anthony: Everything from canned foods and foods that aren’t perishable. And we had to check the food to make sure it hadn’t expired. And if it had expired, get rid of it.
Q: Canned goods, boxes of cereals, crackers and things like that.
Q: And how many bags was that?
Anthony: About 30 to 40.
Q: And you took that down to the Food Pantry.
Mrs. Zannella: Well, I took it down to the Food Pantry, because it’s only open on Friday mornings when he’s in school.
Q: And what was the reaction from the Food Pantry?
Mrs. Zannella. He doesn’t see them. But, they were amazed.
Q: Then, at what point did you decide “Oh, I’m going to do this again?” That this was going to be an annual thing?
Anthony: Well, I thought it would be a good thing to do it the next year. And, I just kept doing it.
Q: And, now, we’re into the seventh year. So, how big was it this year?
Mrs. Zannella: So, we put it on social media now. So, friends, family and I have clients at my shop who contribute now.
Q: Okay. So, how many mailboxes did you hit with your letter this year?
Anthony: The same amount as usual … 35 to 40 houses on this street and the next street.
Q: And the amount of food collected keeps getting bigger?
Q: And you said about 40 to 50 bags now?
Q: So, you need help when you drive over to the Food Pantry?
Mrs. Zannella: It’s amazing. People just come out of the Food Pantry and carry in this stuff. There’s a bunch of people that help. I drive up my car and open the trunk and everybody comes out and takes in the bags.
Q: So, you have another year of high school. Is this something you are going to continue or is this something that ends when you graduate?
Anthony: Next year, definitely.
Q: So, after next year, it all depends on whether you commute to college or live on campus?
Mr. Zannella: It depends on where he goes to college and if he decides to live there.
Q: Now, what kind of feedback have you gotten from the community or from the people at the Food Pantry?
Anthony: People usually leave little “Thank you” notes or send the letter back with something written on it. And they put it in the bag that they drop off at my house.
Mrs. Zannella: People put notes in the bag thanking him. And some people have put in gift cards from McDonalds. And, we have people asking if he’s going to do it again next year.
Q: Now, what have you gotten out of this as a person?
Anthony: It feels good to do a good thing and help out others.
Q: So are you involved with other projects?
Anthony: No. This is my only one.
Q: Do you have similar projects at school?
Anthony: Yea. If they have a food drive, I’ll help out with that too.
Mr. Zannella: It’s tough for him to work on other projects while playing sports and three hours of homework a night. It’s really hard for him to get involved in a lot of things.
Q: So, this project takes some time. Doesn’t it?
Q: So, when do you start the project?
Anthony: I’ll write the letter a week or two before the food drive. And I’ll put the letters in the mail boxes a week before Thanksgiving.
Q: So, you must be pretty proud of your son?
Mrs. Zannella: Yes. It’s amazing. It’s a lot of work.
Q: And what was you reaction when Anthony began this project seven years ago?
Mrs. Zannella: We were amazed. My husband had lost his job. We were so thankful, we had family all around. We knew we’d be okay. But there’s some people who wouldn’t be. And, Anthony was thinking about them. That made us very proud.
Mr. Zannella: You don’t realize that children are always listening when families are talking about things and how to get by. Anthony started this when a lot of people were losing their jobs left and right and were ought of work for extended periods of time. And we were talking about “What do we do?” and “How are we going to get through this?” As a result of those conversations and not thinking he was listening, that’s how he came out (with the food drive). It was his idea.
Mrs. Zannella: So, when he was younger, we used to help him write it (the letter) and we would get it photo copied and we’d walk with him up and down the street. Now, it’s all on him.
Q: So, this is something you were doing when you were nine years old?
Q: Well, it’s admirable, because it’s not a typical response by a kid. If every kid responded like you did, it would be a much better world.
Mrs. Zannella: Right.
Q: It’s remarkable the way things happened. “Well, Daddy has lost his job.” And, next thing you know, Anthony decides it would be a good thing to help people who are less fortunate. So, he starts a Thanksgiving Day food drive. That’s not your typical response from a kid.
Mrs. Zannella: You’re right.
Q: So, are you a pretty spiritual person?
Anthony: A little bit.
Q: Was there any role model or somebody who influenced you to do this altruistic act?
Anthony: I don’t think so.
Mrs. Zannella: We had heard that somebody else had done a food drive in the neighborhood. Maybe that’s how he got the idea.
Q: So, did you hear from any of the consumers at the Food Pantry?
Mrs. Zannella: No, because I would just leave the bags of food there. They wouldn’t know who left it. The people who took in the bags at the Food Pantry just knew it was coming from David Drive.
Q: So, this has been like a family thing, would you say?
Mrs. Zannella: Yes.
Q: You encourage him.
Mrs. Zannella: Yes. But, it’s up to him to do it now.
Q: Did you have any reservations about him doing it at the outset?
Mrs. Zannella: Nope. No. He’s doing okay with it.
Q: It’s a very compelling response from a kid, a nine-year-old, whose dad had lost his job.
Mr. Zannella: Yes. He was very mature for a nine-year-old. But I also think it’s just his nature. Because, he’s fantastic with his sister. He gives us all the support we need and then some. Even at a very young age, he would be looking out for her. As a parent, it really makes me proud to see that he’s a loving and caring type of a person. It would be very easy for him to ignore her and go about his way. He’s a typical older brother who loves to aggravate his younger sister. But, you can tell there’s a special bond there. She listens to him more so than she listens to us.
Q: So, what do you want to do with your life when you graduate (from high school)?
Anthony: I want to be an engineer.
Q: And how will this project help you in the future?
Anthony: Possibly, it will help me interact with others better.
Q: And I guess when you have a family of your own some day, this is something you would encourage your children to do?
Q: Anything else you want to share?
Mrs. Zannella: He’s not very talkative!
Q: Anything else as parents that you would like to share?
Mr. Zannella: Obviously, this wasn’t done for the recognition. But, it’s really nice for him to be recognized for his kind act.
Mrs. Zannella: “We didn’t think they (at the Food Pantry) knew who were were. But he likes it (doing the food drive). When he was younger, he would say “Mom, there’s another bag on the stairs!” You know, it’s exciting for a kid.
Mr. Zannella: And every year, the feedback is “Wow! Look at all these bags.” I don’t know what level of contribution they (the Food Pantry) get on a regular basis. But from individuals, they seem to be very surprised at this quantity of food coming from an individual.
Q: So, how many bags do you figure you have collected over the years total?
Mrs. Zannella: At least 20 bags a year.
Anthony: Probably a little over 200 total.