Hile Does It for the Smiles

SALEM, Ohio — Jamie Hile works full-time as a registered nurse and has three children, so it’s safe to say her time is at a premium. Still, for the past six months, she has volunteered at least twice a month for the giveaways held by The Brightside Project in Salem.

Hile heard about the nonprofit’s work on Facebook, and having children of her own, decided it was something she wanted to be a part of. “I think kids should be taken care of no matter what,” she says.

Every month The Brightside Project opens its doors to children who have experienced trauma, giving them free rein to walk through the pantry and take home whatever items they choose. The items include non-perishable foods such as macaroni and cheese and toiletries. But there’s nothing small about the impact it has on the children that Hile befriends as they pick their items.

“A lot of them come back every month and you get to know them,” she says. “You see them wearing the scarf you gave them or the hat and the gloves. So you know you’re making a difference.”

A separate giveaway night is held specifically for the children of the Guatemalan population of Salem, whose parents have been the target of several raids by agents of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement. “I actually like that night a bit better because those kids are so appreciative,” Hile says.

The trauma for these children, says Lisa Wallace, co-director of The Brightside Project, is the constant threat that they may never see their parents again.

Hile says the last time the Fresh Mark meat packaging plant, where many of the immigrants work, was raided, the children of those who were detained still came to the giveaway. “We gave them soap and everything because they didn’t have anything,” she recalls. “Just to be part of that is very humbling.”

Her time volunteering brings her a mixture of joy and sadness, says Hile: joy at seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and sadness from seeing what they endure. Often the children who come in are dirty and unwashed, she says. “But they’re in there and they’re happy. They get their stuffed animal, and perhaps a toothbrush.”

Some of the toughest times, she says, are when she’s interacting with older children. “Thinking back to being 15 or 16 and not being able to afford food. That to me is more heart-breaking sometimes than a little kid who thinks they’re coming to shop.”

But those heart-breaking times are easily outweighed by the bright, glowing joy she feels when she gets to make a difference in a child’s life.

“I’ve seen some that come in every month and you wonder what kind of life they have at home. But when they’re with you, you’re the bright side. You get to be the good part of their day.”

Pictured: Jamie Hile snuggles with Lucy Medalla and Maria Vincenta at the Brightside pantry.