Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Avery Bunnell hands a giant check to Ryan McWherter of the Madera County Food Bank, while his father Bill Bunnell, right, looks on. Shalinder Singh Dang of Darbar Shiri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, is waiting to present a check from his temple as Sabi Singh, left, waits with him.
Spearheaded by Yosemite High School junior-to-be Avery Bunnell, the Madera County American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association and the Central Valley chapter of the United Way and the Darbar Shiri Guru Granth Sahib Ji donated $41,000 to the Madera County Food Bank last week.
“If you put your mind to something, you can do most things, I think,” Bunnell said. “People usually congratulate me and are in shock. I tell them that it’s not as hard as it looks, you have to put your mind to it and carry it out.”
Bunnell raised $20,550 through three different ways and received a matching donation from the United Way to give the Madera County Food Bank $41,000.
“The APCA raised $8,000 and received money from people like my dad’s buddies,” Bunnell said. “We got some money from the Sikh temple and the United Way matched that.”
Bunnell got the idea to donate to the Madera County food bank when he found out his dad and his APCA chapter donated $10,000 to Fresno’s Food Bank.
“I went down to Fresno with him and he told me about the donation,” Bunnell said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we do that in Oakhurst? A few of my buddies are not making much money.’ I said they could use some help, why don’t you do it for them. He told me his station and group was in Fresno, but if I wanted to it, you can. I said, okay. I tried to make some calls and sent a lot of emails to people that I thought would donate and help out. I did some research on who helps out the most. A lot of people were generous and helped me out.
“My dad was really proud of what we did. He laughed that we donated more than they did. He ended up donating $1,650. We had a goal set for $8.000 and we were a little short and he covered the difference.”
One of the organizations that helped out was the Darbar Shiri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a Sikh temple in Fresno.
“We reached out to the Sikh temple,” Bunnell said. “My dad knew them from the Fresno donation. I reached out to them to see if they could help with this and they were more than happy to help out. The Sikh temple wanted their money to help people out. When we got the United Way matching donation, they said this was the way to go because if it gets matched, it will be even more help to more people.”
“I thought about all the events in the community with the COVID-19 and families not being able to support themselves for whatever the reasons,” said Shalinder Singh Dang, a temple board member. “I decided to talk to the other board members and we decided we wanted to donate $5,000. I also put out a group chat that we want to do a donation/fundraiser drive. A lot of the congregation started feeling positive about it. We set up a Paypal link and they started donating. We raised $3,050 from the congregation members. Along with the $5,000, that was an $8,050 donation.”
Then, Bunnell turned his focus to his dad’s buddies with the APCA.
“Any time we are able to be a part of something in this community to give back is a great thing, especially for the Valley,” said Madera APCA member Sabi Singh. “You think of a small town like Madera, nobody puts us into a conversation when it comes to donations, especially with amount like that. When you can give $41,000 to the Madera County Food Bank that serves so many people in the community, it’s a more grateful thing to belong to. Our association decided to raise funds to give back to the community. At first, I thought it was better way to give back to Madera. I’m thankful to be on these boards because it helps to give back to our town. When they have conversations of giving back, I ask what are we going to do for Madera. We have a lot of members from Madera. Sometimes they relay the message to me that we aren’t doing enough in Madera. A lot of our convenience owners in the community are really giving. We try to get donations from people, but a lot of times, it’s just us.”
Brunnell then was able to get in touch with the Central Valley chapter of the United way to match his donation from both his efforts with the APCA and the Sikh temple. “We got United Way to match the funds,” Singh said. “When I heard that, I was ecstatic. At first, it was a struggle because we had to wait. I told him we had money for the food bank and we’ve been wanting to get to them, as well. Persistence pays off.”
With the donation, Singh said the food bank is able to purchase a truck to deliver food. With an awaiting grant of $100,000 and the $41,000 they donated, the Madera County Food Bank is able to get a new truck.
“We’re waiting for a grant to get the truck,” said Ryan McWherter, Madera County Food Bank executive director. “The grant is specifically designated to get a truck. The donation would help purchase the truck. They have been working on it for a couple of months. We appreciated people doing things like that. It was well worth the wait.”
“Ryan was ecstatic,” Dang said. “He was grateful. He’s a wonderful guy and a pleasure to meet. We look forward to work with them in the future to help them out. He’s a wonderful guy, all around.”
Both Singh and Dang were happy to see what Brunnell was able to accomplish, especially being a 16-year-old student.
“Avery is a young student that had a lot of connections and saw a need,” Singh said. “For us, we want younger adults to step up. To have him to run around and ask businesses for donations is great. It’s not easy. It’s tough, especially for a kid. For us, we have connections and have the ability o talk to adults in a different manor. For him to do that, it was great. I was very impressed with what he was able to do. It was a team effort.”
“I am very proud of Avery to do this effort to get everyone together,” Dang said. “We were glad to be a part of this and happy to see our congregation come together for the Madera community.”
Brunnell was also happy he was able fundraise and donate $6,500 to the Manna House in Oakhurst and also donate about 3,000 masks to emergency service workers in Madera.
“The Manna house is a little food bank-type organization in Oakhurst,” Brunnell said. “Everyone wanted to donate, but Oakhurst wasn’t as high on the priority list. That donation really helped out and I’m glad we did that.”
Brunnell isn’t sure about what he wants to do in the future, although joining the military or going into business are things he has been thinking about.
“Some people think they can’t do anything right now, but if you put your mind to something to a project, there are plenty of things to help out the community,” he said.