FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Members of the Fort Jackson Homeschool Group like getting their hands dirty -- if it means helping local pets. The group meets regularly to support the Palmetto Life Line's Pet Soup project, which provides pet food to Columbia pet owners who might not otherwise be able to feed their furry friends.Local stores donate bags of pet food that have been ripped or damaged and cannot be sold. Individual donors also give pet food through donation bins at pet stores throughout Columbia or by scheduling a pickup. Volunteers then meet on designated days to mix the donated food, bag it, and distribute it."There are many people out there who can't afford food for themselves, let alone their pets," said the homeschool group's coordinator, Bethany Storlazzi. "By helping here, we are making sure that these pets will have a meal."Storlazzi said the homeschool group, which includes her three children, has been participating for three years. The group's involvement benefits local animals, but it also provides the children with valuable lessons."One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is because we wanted to educate our children with strong morals," Storlazzi said. "This is something that children of any age can do, and it teaches them the value of looking out for people, animals and the earth -- it helps them feel connected to those things."The kids learn about team building, camaraderie and a sense of community," she said. "But most importantly, they learn that anyone can do something to make the world a better place."Jenni Arthur, a member of the group, said she and her two children participate because going as a group provides an example of service."The kids can see their parents, their peers and other families modeling service, and serving is an important characteristic," Arthur said.The group's younger members seem to be taking the lesson to heart."I love animals and I think they have feelings," said Sophia Storlazzi, 13. "Doing this makes a difference for hungry pets, and it makes me feel good."Nohl Storlazzi, 12, said participating in Pet Soup is a way to help the community, but it's also a chance to spend time with his peers."I like helping animals, and it's also really fun coming out here and talking with other kids," he said.Sophia, Nohl, and their brother, Drew, 10, get plenty of chances to do that through the homeschool group, which also meets for field trips and twice a month for physical education classes at the Fort Jackson Youth Services Center.Whatever members of the group might take away from their experiences at Pet Soup, however, cannot outweigh what they contribute, said the program's supervisor, Ron Clements.Only people who can verify their need through disability or state or federal aid are eligible to receive pet food from the program, Clements said. Even with such stringent guidelines, more than 100 families received donated food during the most recent distribution day.In the face of such a great need in the community, the support of the Fort Jackson Homeschool Group is important, he said, but it is also inspiring."I like to see these kids involved at such a young age," said the former Army helicopter crew chief. "They are learning to have a respect for and care about pets and people in need."
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