EASTON, Maine — Throughout the past three years, 11-year-old Ashton Embleton of Easton has donated over $6,000, 4,500 pounds of food and over 300 hours of community service to folks in need. And the youngster has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I had heard that there were people out there starving, so I decided to put some change aside so that it could change people’s lives,” Embleton said.
She has named her movement “Loose Change Changes Lives,” which she often promotes on Facebook. Her campaign all started in 2015 when she found out that Grace Interfaith Food Table in Presque Isle was in need of peanut butter. She collected just over $100, which allowed her to buy 75 jars of peanut butter and present her donations personally to the organization.
Since then Embleton has taken on at least one or two fundraising projects per month for other organizations and local families in need of food or other necessary supplies. She typically keeps track of news stories to find people who are in need or she learns about them from folks who message her on Facebook.
“She’ll go to the different craft fairs or grocery stores and set up a table for about four hours to collect change,” said her mother, Kimberly White-Embleton, who often accompanies her daughter on fundraiser outings. “Anywhere that’s willing to have her is where she’ll go.”
Embleton has most frequently donated to Friends Helping Friends food pantries in Fort Fairfield and Easton, GIFT and United Way of Aroostook, and recently helped with the second and final year of United Way’s Summer Gap Feeding Program. One of her most poignant fundraisers involved raising money for Friends Helpings Friends’ Fort Fairfield location after they lost much of their food in a robbery two years ago.
To help out her neighbors Embleton initially raised $100 and then conquered her fear of public speaking to make her cause known to the community.
“Ashton got up in front of the church and said, ‘I have $100. Who’s going to match me?’” White-Embleton said. “She ended up with $250 total. When she presented the check to the folks at the food pantry, they couldn’t believe that a 9-year-old kid had raised all that money.”
The organization was so grateful that they bought Embleton her first sign that bears the phrase “Loose Change Changes Lives,” which she uses whenever she collects change in public. Last Thanksgiving, she collected $200 at Graves Shop ‘n Save in Presque Isle and then purchased 10 turkeys to give to local food pantries. She plans to donate turkeys again this year for the holiday and is open to brainstorming other holiday fundraisers as well.
But perhaps the most eye-opening experience for the youngster, according to her mother, was when she purchased and delivered food to a family in Van Buren that was in more dire need than she had imagined.
“That was the first time she actually saw the impact that her donations were having on people in the community and how excited the kids were to receive the food,” White-Embleton said. “Now, whenever we see the family at Walmart, the kids still remember who she is and talk to her. I think that was when she realized that not everybody has it easy in life.”
Although she tends to shy away from public recognition, Embleton has received many awards for her community service, including the Young Maine Volunteer Roll of Honor and the Real Heroes Award from state Rep. David McCrea. She also has received letters of recognition from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. She also served as a guest speaker at the Mars Hill Rotary Club, the now defunct Cornerstone Christian Academy and the Caribou Learning Center.
For White-Embleton, the most rewarding part of the journey has been watching her daughter grow through her experiences and gain even more passion for helping people around her.
“She’s so humble and she’s never let the attention go to her head,” her mother said. “She has so much empathy for people that everything she’s done just seems to come natural to her.”