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Menahga teen assembles care packages for homeless kids

Thirteen-year-old Makayla Hillukka has earned an A+ in philanthropy and science.

Back in November, Hillukka asked Menahga science teacher Joy Rippentrop if she could do an independent project.

"She had time because she was units ahead of the class," Rippentrop explained.

A student-driven, teacher-assisted project aligns perfectly with the school’s focus on Project Based Learning, said Rippentrop.

Over the next six months, Hillukka amassed donations and supplies to create care packages for homeless teens and children.

"I wanted to do something with volunteering and helping others," said the Menahga seventh grader.

She found the "Blessing Bag" project on Pinterest and decided to assemble toiletries, books and small toys for boys and girls.

"I really wanted to focus on the children," she said.

Her goal: 100 care packages.

"She just took off. She’s awesome," said Rippentrop.

Hillukka set up a page on WeHelpGive (, a free online platform to receive donations for fundraising campaigns.

"I received over $800 total," Hillukka said. "Most of my donations came from the website because it was easy."

She also set up a local bank account for cash donations and to keep track of contributions.

Hillukka wrote professional letters requesting funds, talked to businesses, set deadlines and improved her communication skills, said Rippentrop

In May, Hillukka donated 100 care packages to New Pathways, which provides shelter and resources to homeless adults with children. Located in Brainerd, New Pathways partners with area churches to offer safe sleeping accommodations, three meals a day and job skills training.

New Pathways was founded Jennifer Farnum’s husband. Farnum teaches English at Menahga, "so I kinda felt partial to it," explained Hillukka.

She, Rippentrop and Elizabeth Hillukka, Makayla’s mom, drove to Brainerd to donate the care package in person.

Each care package contains basic, everyday items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion and shampoo. The tooth care products were donated by dentistry offices in Wadena and Park Rapids.

Hillukka also included an age-appropriate book – from picture books to chapter books – for each child. All of them were all donated by fellow English classmates, she said.

"I’m so proud of her," Rippentrop said.

Although Hillukka intends to become an attorney or engineer some day, "I definitely want to continue volunteering because I love it," she said.