Cory Nichols helps feed struggling neighbors
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Cory Nichols helps feed struggling neighbors

The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org.

 Cory Nichols shops for supplies for a local food pantry. (Courtesy of Cory Nichols)

Cory Nichols shopping for supplies for a local food pantry. (Courtesy of Cory Nichols)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — After seeing the documentary “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island,” Cory Nichols enlisted his rabbi to find a way to use his upcoming bar mitzvah project to make a difference for struggling families in his Oceanside, N.Y., community.

Nichols contacted a local food pantry housed inside a neighboring church to see what it needed most.

He set a goal of raising $1,200 to stock the pantry’s shelves with $100 a month in food staples like peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish, pancake mix and cereal.

“I couldn’t believe that 150 families in my community use the food pantry,” said Nichols, now 14 and a ninth-grader at Oceanside High School on Long Island, as well as an actor who has appeared in several films. “There are probably kids at my lunch table eating food from the pantry. It made me want to do all that I could do to help.”

After a successful fundraising campaign in its first year, Nichols soon started the nonprofit “C the Difference: Cory Cares,” and in a little over two years has raised over $13,000 and delivered 5,000 pounds of food.

To raise the money, he has sold C the Difference bracelets, organized a charity kickball game and spread the word via social media.

In addition, a local supermarket donated 12 gift cards of $100 each, and Nichols was recently awarded $1,000 from the Jolly Time Popcorn Kernels of Kindness contest. He also has organized a junior advisory board of nine fellow teens to help with more fundraising efforts such as a raffle and food drives.

In the coming year, C the Difference will contribute monthly food donations to two additional pantries as well as to Hatzilu Rescue Organization, which provides kosher food to those in need.

“I’ve learned that even the smallest amount of time, on the grand scale, can make a difference,” said Nichols, who appeared in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” among other movies. “I hope to keep [C the Difference] going for as long as I can and have the money to cover it.”

JTA spoke to Nichols about his most unforgettable Jewish experience, his advice to other teens interested in starting a nonprofit and the person whom he’d like to help spread the word about his organization.

JTA: What do you think are important qualities of a hero?

Nichols: A hero is someone who is generous, selfless, determined and caring.

Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had?

At my bar mitzvah, I had all four of my grandparents pass the Torah to me. It was a moment that I’ll never forget.

What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Hanukkah. It’s a fun holiday. You get gifts, and who doesn’t like latkes?

What advice would you give to other teens interested in starting a nonprofit?

There’s no idea too small or too big. Every dollar and every amount of effort makes a difference. Don’t let obstacles stop you. If you see a problem, make a plan, ask an adult for guidance and go for it.

What kind of things do you like to do for fun?

I’m an actor in movies and TV. I like playing hockey, basketball and football with my friends. I love watching the New York Rangers and football with my dad.

If you could have lunch with anyone and tell him or her about C the Difference, who would it be?

President Obama, because who’s going to have a bigger voice to get the word out? If one kid in every town did what I am doing, the difference would be remarkable.

Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to teens@jta.org.