31,000 and Counting: There's No Stopping Teen and Her 'Clean Start' Donations
Here's how Danielle Ziaja is making a difference in Oakland and Macomb counties.
On the Friday before her senior year at Detroit Country Day was set to begin, Danielle Ziaja of Rochester Hills had a hair appointment, a senior photo shoot and some summer calculus homework to finish up.
She is, in many ways, a typical 17-year-old.
Except for the 1,300 crayons, 185 bars of soap and 3,282 tubes of toothpaste that were packed into the back of her parents' Yukon.
On Friday morning, Danielle unloaded the crayons, soap and toothpaste, along with thousands of other personal care and school supply items, onto a cart bound for a warehouse at the Lighthouse of Oakland County. The shipment capped off a summer of similar donations across Oakland and Macomb counties — 31,026 items in all.
"People who talk about being worried about the next generation — well, I'm not worried when I see this," said Priscilla Perkins, chief development officer for Lighthouse, a support service for local families in crisis.
Perkins said she could think of only one word for Danielle's efforts.
Making a difference
Patch first told Danielle's story in July. (Read Rochester Hills Teen Helps Others Get a 'Clean Start' With Super Donation.)
Danielle is the daughter of Rose and Bob Ziaja, an orthodontist in Macomb and Clarkston. She grew up seeing her dad receive nonstop samples of toothpastes. About a year ago, she had an idea to do something amazing with the toothpastes — and with other personal hygiene products that dentists and doctors received.
She started Clean Start, a service project that collects the items and distributes them to those in need. Her first donation of 12,640 items in July went to Lighthouse and the Rochester Area Neighborhood House, where leaders said her donation was the largest-ever by an individual.
Since then, Danielle and Clean Start have donated items to the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team and the Salvation Army. The group also donated uniforms to Brookfield Academy in Rochester Hills, where Danielle attended elementary school.
"When you think of the people we serve, you think about if a person can't afford food, they are not going to be able to afford a $1.69 tube of toothpaste or school supplies," said Perkins, of the Lighthouse.
Perkins said her clients have been looking for help with school supplies in recent days.
"Those are the items that will make a difference between a kid feeling comfortable and self-confident or dejected and like he doesn't fit in," Perkins said. "These things are trivial, but they are not. They do make a difference."
Danielle said she has always felt compelled to give back.
"I care about the community and I know there are people out there who need help," she said. She said she was especially proud of the school supplies she was able to collect.
How to help
Danielle plans to continue collecting items through the end of her senior year at Country Day.
Clean Start is in need of personal hygiene items, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoos and conditioners, mouthwash, soap and shower gels. The organization also collects school supplies and cleaning supplies, as well as contact lens and eye care kits and saline nose and eye drops.
- Hepburn's at The Village of Rochester Hills has a collection box for items.
- Fraser Optical, with locations in Shelby Township, Romeo, Richmond, Sterling Heights and Fraser, is also collecting items.
- You can also contact Danielle directly to donate at Cleanstartproject@gmail.com.
For more information, see the organization's Facebook page and become a fan.