By Nick Nahas

Jessica Valdes has been a very ambitious and caring person since the age of 4, helping those less fortunate than her. Valdes, now 14, is an 8th grade student at Randall Middle School, and she is already in charge of her very own ministry that provides bags with toiletry items and snacks for the homeless. According to Valdes, it all started when she was coming back from dinner and saw a homeless man setting up his bed on a park bench. Valdes, being a young and inquisitive four-year-old, started to ask the man questions. “That just made me want to help the homeless,” she said. “I saw that there was a need and I just wanted to fulfill the need.”

Jessica’s Homeless Helpers, Valdes’ ministry, has collected over 84,000 items over the past 10 years. She puts together Manna bags (Manna, meaning provision of God) that include travel size toiletry items that can fit into a backpack, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and soap, along with a small snack. “Jessica is very compassionate, she’s always concerned with other people’s feelings,” said Julie Valdes, Jessica’s mother. “She’s always been like that since day one, I think that’s why the ministry has blossomed.”

According to her Facebook page, Jessica’s Homeless Helpers, the Manna bags are delivered to local charities in the Tampa Bay/Brandon area that work directly with the homeless, such as E.C.H.O of Brandon, Cynthia Pinckney Ministries, Mission Tampa, Mobile Dental Truck (Mission Tampa) and Volunteers of America, to name a few.

Valdes was featured in Beauty Revived’s “50 Beautiful Children” blog in September (http://beautyrevived.com/magazines/) featuring young people who are making a difference in their communities. She also does a lot of public speaking to help promote her cause. Valdes is also an avid soccer player. She currently plays for the Florida Hawks FC U16 team in Fishhawk, and plans on trying out for the Newsome High School soccer team when she attends high school next year.

Her ultimate goal is to collect a total of 100,000 items by the time she graduates from high school. She would also like to play for the Clemson soccer team in the future when she attends college. “It doesn’t matter if you are big or small to make a BIG difference,” she said.

If you would like to donate, you can contact Jessica and Julie on their Facebook page. They do not accept monetary donations. Find Jessica’s Homeless Helpers on Facebook.