Ashburn Student Donates $900 in Gift Cards to Shelter – Loudoun Now

Sophomore Abhi Badia is no stranger to volunteering. He’s been cooking hot meals at home with his mom Priya Dodla for emergency shelters and helping where he could with her since he was eight years old.

Badia and Dodla

Abhi Badia and his mom Priya Dodla at their home in Ashburn. Abhi raised $900 in gift cards for an emergency shelter in December. He learned to give back by working alongside his mom. 

At 15, he has organized canned food drives for food pantries, made sandwiches for a shelter and recently helped his mom and several others put 24 care packages together filled with beanies, gloves, blankets and food and deliver them to homeless people in Washington, DC.

He also helps his mom and her friends Kavita Nagar, Sindhura Vadlamani, and Saritha Bashetty regularly cook hot meals for the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston and the Loudoun Homeless Services Center in Leesburg.

Badia is a member of Nest4US, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that gives students opportunities to serve in various ways like tutoring and mentoring, technology workshops and food drives among others. As a member of the organization, he is always looking for ways to volunteer and help those in the community. 

A month ago, he wanted to do more for the 70 bed Embry Rucker Community Shelter, which is run by nonprofit organization Cornerstones. He reached out to Cornerstones Manager of Volunteer and Community Engagement Saira Sufi to find out what he could do to help the shelter during the holidays. 

Sufi said because he wasn’t 18 year old, he couldn’t volunteer in the shelter, but suggested he do a gift card drive to benefit their clients. She told Badia the greatest need was gift cards for groceries because some clients are moving into affordable housing, and others need gift cards for meals from fast food restaurants. 

She also told him their clients have found receiving gift cards to be more empowering. 

“I wanted to do this… and it was something I was passionate about, so I told my parents, and they were very supportive of it and that is how it started,” Badia said. 

He said at first, he got the word out by talking to his friends at school and through Facebook. Badia, an Ashburn resident, is a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. He said his bus ride to and from school is about an hour each way so he would often use that time to talk to friends or spread the word on social media. His mom also helped get the word out about his gift card drive by telling her friends and family members. 

Badia, who considers himself shy, said it was hard to go out of his comfort zone to ask friends if they would like to donate, but he said he was able to work through that because he knew what he was doing was for a good cause. 

“I’d ask them if they’d be willing to donate any amount of money, $5, $10, anything really, and that is how we go to the $900. Everyone donated what they could, and it was good. We had so many people doing that,” he said. “It was an overall effort of students and adults. My mom’s friends stepped up and I’m really grateful for that.”

He said he didn’t have a goal when it got started, just an end date of when he wanted to deliver the cards, but he said he wanted to see how much could be raised. 

“At first it was $500 that we raised, and it was going slow. Then we hit this exponential curve and the next day it was $600, then $700, then eventually $900 by the last day,” Badia said. 

He said local friends bought and delivered the gift cards in December. Others who wanted to help but weren’t local sent his mom money and she bought the cards. Badia said family members living in other parts of the United States donated this way. 

Abhi Badia with gift cards

15 year old Abhi Badia sits with about 100 donated gift cards from a gift card drive he organized in December. 

The gift cards varied in amounts and were for stores like Target, Walmart, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Chipotle and other restaurants. 

Badia said they had more than 100 cards when the drive ended, and with his mom’s help, he made two gift card bouquets to deliver to Sufi. 

Gift card bouquet

Two gift card bouquets 15 year old Abhi Badia and his mom Priya Dodla created from gift cards donated in December to benefit the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston. 

Sufi said getting $900 in gift cards at the end of the year was a welcomed surprise, and said it was needed.

She said they had originally counted 50 adults who would be coming to the shelter, but as the weather turned colder there was a greater need, and thanks to Badia’s donation they were able to serve 80 clients, with many taking more than one card depending on their need. 

Sufi said sometimes there are kids who volunteer to get hours and do the bare minimum. She said Abhi went above and beyond, and said, “you can tell it comes from the heart and that he’s a good kid.” 

“I feel like gift cards have a more personal touch to them.  You feel happy about it, it’s more like a gift. And gift cards can be used for things for their kids like clothes or gifts,” Badia said. 

Sufi sent Badia an email to let him know how helpful his drive was to the clients of Cornerstones. 

He said it made him happy to know he had helped so many.

“I accomplished what I wanted to do. Even helping 10 people or one person in my opinion is such a great thing,” he said. 

He encourages everyone to volunteer.

“Everyone should volunteer, even if it’s one time or two to three times. Giving back to the community is such an amazing thing, you feel gratitude and humble and you become a better person from it,” he said. “Don’t be scared. I’m also shy, but don’t be scared. Just donate and find some way to help and have fun doing it.” 

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