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The elephant in the room

18-year-old creates children’s book to raise awareness of hunger

By Jana Mackin 

There’s an elephant in the room at Hannah Marie Povroznik’s house: Mella, a blue elephant who struggles with hunger.

Mella is also the main character of “Mella’s Box,” a children’s book written and illustrated by Povroznik and published this summer. She wrote the book to address issues of community hunger, inspire youth and educate about her organization: Boxing It Up to Give Thanks that has provided thousands of Thanksgiving meals throughout several counties surrounding her Bridgeport home.

“Mella is the main character. Elephants are representative of compassion, enduring love and life,” Povroznik, 18, said. “She is symbolic of the journey through food insecurity that millions of children face each day.” 

Hannah Marie Povroznik

A recent Bridgeport High School graduate, she is a freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College, in Buckhannon, where she majors in biochemistry, and minors in human anatomy, Spanish and honors.

Her sterling resume includes academic, organizational and service awards such as Wesleyan College’s 1st Circle K President, Key Club International trustee (first West Virginian elected to office), National Honor Society inductee and Spanish Honorary Society inductee; Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis “Jefferson Award.” 

She is a member of Bridgeport Methodist Church and wants to become a doctor.

“When I was 10 years old, we had a diabetic cat,” Povroznik said. “I would put on my Dr. Hannah hat and give her shots.” 

For Povroznik, the book expresses, through her words and images, the impact of hunger and surrounding issues.

“Mella’s Box” and Boxing It Up are inexorable complements to one another in the themes they address.

“The book is a vehicle for others to see that we can empower youth through this little children’s story,” she said. “I pray that this book serves as an opportunity for community leadership to mentor youth about the implications of food insecurity and inspire them to be a voice of change.” 

Mella also honors her NaNa, Carmella Marie Povroznik, who died of liver cancer when Hannah was 9.

“My grandmother was one of those special souls who emanated gentleness and had the ability to see light in darkness, along with her tenacity and courage,” she said.

At 15, Povroznik came up with the idea of Boxing It Up to Give Thanks for Bridgeport High School Key Club, as part of the club’s community service project. However, this teenager had grown up with awareness about hunger and the importance of service.

“As a child, it was my parents that initially kindled my passion for community service,” Povroznik said. “My family has had the privilege of sponsoring six children through Compassion International, providing humanitarian aid to children living in poverty around the world.” 

Through grit, leadership and volunteerism, Povroznik  turned her idea into  a successful, youth-run hunger campaign that has addressed Thanksgiving hunger since 2017.

As of 2020, Povroznik estimates they will have raised $80,000 since the program’s inception, distributing 61,000 pounds of food for 3,100 boxed Thanksgiving meals to 34 food pantries through seven counties in north-central West Virginia.

“Hannah is a very ambitious, forward-thinking young woman,” Mark Povroznik said. He is chief quality officer and chairman of infectious control for WVU Medicine-United Hospital Center in Bridgeport. He lives with his wife, Lisa, Hannah and 15-year-old Sarah at their Bridgeport home. “She has a passion for service, and I think that is where she has found her voice.” 

Boxing It Up has galvanized community support from a wide range of sponsors, be it individuals or large corporations. Price Cutter of Bridgeport sponsored the program from the beginning and has been an essential agent for food purchases and staging logistics as its storage, packaging and distribution center.

This year, due to COVID-19, more than 30 food pantries came to the main distribution center on Boxing Day, Nov. 21, where they picked up boxed dinners for their distribution areas.

And this year, another 1,000 hungry families can enjoy all the holiday food and trappings of Thanksgiving courtesy of the blue elephant in Mella’s Box.

“I got on this journey with them early on,” said Jody Boblett, Price Cutter-Bridgeport store manager. “They went from a small project and the next thing you know, they are packing over a 1,000 boxes a year. It is great to be able to help so many people that need it. 

“It is amazing to watch someone who is so young and involved,” he added. “One person can make a difference.” 

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