In just five months, Sruti Chigurupati spent 100 hours of her free time volunteering.
The Olentangy Orange High School sophomore began donating her time in January to LifeCare Alliance near downtown Columbus. She was following in her older brother's footsteps by joining the organization that's best known for its Meals on Wheels program.
After about 40 hours of volunteering, she learned about the President's Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes students who have spent a significant amount of time working for a good cause.
So she began tracking the weekend and spring-break hours she spent in the LifeCare Alliance kitchen, bagging and boxing Meals on Wheels entrees, and by May, she had reached more than 100 hours, which made her eligible for the award.
Chigurupati said her main responsibilities at LifeCare Alliance include bagging the meals according to a client's menu choices, then boxing the orders up in a way so drivers can deliver the special meals to the correct homes.
"It seems like it could be daunting after a few hours, but it's fun and I liked getting to know the people I worked with," she said. "And they have a chef, so the whole kitchen smells really good."
Students 14 and younger have one year to complete 100 or more hours of service to be eligible for the President's Volunteer Service Award. Once Chigurupati's hours were completed, she had to apply for the award and provide references from her volunteer coordinators.
Over the summer, she received the award, which consisted of a letter from the White House and a gold medal.
"I think more important than the award is having the opportunity to give back," Chigurupati said.
"Olentangy is kind of like this bubble because we are all fortunate and well-off for the most part, but when you're volunteering at LifeCare, you see people who can't leave their homes or are struggling just to afford food," she added. "It really opens your eyes to see how other people in our community live."
Although Chigurupati has taken time away from LifeCare Alliance to focus on school and her spot on the varsity tennis team, she said she plans to continue volunteering with the organization during winter break. In the meantime, she joined the OOHS Interact Club, which completes service projects throughout the year, such as organizing food and toy drives and reading to elementary school students.
LifeCare Alliance spokeswoman Michelle Jones said having volunteers such as Chigurupati is part of the organization's mission to expand its reach and to empower young people.
"When we see young people who step up and volunteer for us, we really try to make sure that people in the community know that they're doing these things, because they don't have to do it," Jones said.
"They could be out with their friends, and some of them choose to have fun by instead spending time with us. We hope that means their friends may get interested in volunteering and there is a snowball effect."
In addition to packing meals and delivering them, Jones said volunteers can work on-site in the cafe to serve food and take orders. There also are plenty of odd jobs at LifeCare Alliance that volunteers can assist with, including washing delivery vans and making thoughtful cards to accompany the meals.
"We couldn't do what we do without our volunteers," Jones said.
To learn more about volunteering for LifeCare Alliance, call 614-444-MEAL or visit LifeCareAlliance.org.