Chula Vista

Extraordinary San Diegans: Chula Vista Girl Scout Junior, 9, Sets Up Donation Table for Neighbors in Need

Emma Payan and her family are finding a sweet, simple way to give back to their community during the coronavirus pandemic

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A 9-year-old Chula Vista Girl Scout Junior has found a sweet way to help her community: she simply shares what she has.

For the past several weekends, Halecrest Elementary School student Emma Payan and her family have been setting up a small table in their driveway filled with canned goods, fruit, vegetables, paper towels and other household essentials.

The table – located on East J Street – is called "Emma's Pantry." It's a place where neighbors can grab whatever they need. They can also leave donations for others.

Emma’s mom, Michelle Payan, told NBC 7 last month the donation table is just a small way for her family to help others during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Honestly, it’s amazing how many of our neighbors are in need,” Payan said.

The Payan family decided to set up the table after seeing another one just like it in a Bonita neighborhood. Emma spotted that good deed and wanted to recreate it. She wanted to make a difference.

“Emma has such a big heart,” Payan told NBC 7. “I told her, ‘We can’t help the world, but we can just help as many (people) as we can.’”

Payan said they looked through their pantry and saw they had some extra food.

They set a table up in front of their home filled with food and hung three handwritten signs on the set-up: “Free.” “Please Take Only What You Need.” “Please Donate What You Can.”

Within 15 minutes, Payan said people were stopping by to grab items.

The Payan family stood in the yard, watching.

Then, neighbors began to drop off donations.

Something was happening here.

“It was such a great feeling to be able to know we’re giving back to our community, but people are also giving as well,” Payan explained.

On that first day, Payan said the table was cleared out. As people drove by, they honked and yelled, “Thank you!”

Michelle Payan
Emma Payan and her little sister at their driveway donation table in Chula Vista.

The Payans repeated the gesture the following Saturday to similar results. And then again, and again.

Payan said they’ve been using the week between Saturdays to replenish the items and accept donations from neighbors. They've accepted donations from people from all walks of life, including doctors and nurses.

Today, Emma's Pantry even includes homegrown fruit and lemons donated from people's gardens.

NBC 7 visited Emma's Pantry on May 9 and the Girl Scout was busy stocking her table. She said she hoped the donations would help anyone who needed food.

“Because people are losing their jobs and we just wanted to give back to the community,” Emma Payan explained.

Emma's Pantry will continue to run on Saturdays and will be open until the food runs out. Payan said her family will, once again, keep watch from a safe social distance.

Payan said they’ve been able to give raisins, trail mix, and toilet paper to an elderly couple walking down the street, and rice to a neighbor who lives a few doors down. Each time, neighbors have been incredibly grateful.

“It really warms my heart that we can give it, but it makes me sad to think something that doesn’t cost a lot of money – rice – can make somebody so happy,” she explained.

The lesson in sharing is really striking a chord with Emma and her 3-year-old sister, Payan said.

“It’s really setting in for Emma – what to be thankful for,” Payan said. “She sees it. I know this is a really sad time in all of our lives, but I feel like it’s such a time to teach our children to stay humble and look at what we can give.”

“It’s a great time to reflect on what we have,” she added.

In addition to the donation table, Payan said Emma spends her days making wooden American flags with her dad for their small family business. For every five flags they sell, they donate one to a military veteran, school, library or local organization.

Payan said Emma hopes to be able to donate her wooden flags to local hospitals once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

For now, Emma uses chalk to draw American flags on neighbors’ driveways as another way to lift spirits during these tough times.

Michelle Payan
Chula Vista Girl Scout Junior Emma Payan is finding simple ways to give to her community during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m very proud of Emma,” Michelle Payan told NBC 7. “She’s a third grader, she’s a Girl Scout, she’s a very amazing little girl and I’m very proud of her.”

With food banks across San Diego County seeing a record number of people in need during the pandemic, these driveway donation tables have become a way for locals to help.

Last month, NBC 7 spoke with a Normal Heights resident, Elisa Muchmore, who transformed her driveway into a free “farmers market” offering fruit, vegetables, and even cat food to anyone in need.

Earlier this month, NBC 7 spoke with a health care worker who has set up a pantry in an alley near her home near La Mesa, also to help neighbors in need.

“I believe that if you have, you give,” Michelle Payan added. “And you get it back in abundance.”

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