It all started with a small tube of toothpaste.
As the daughter of an orthodontist, Danielle Ziaja has grown up seeing her dad, Bob Ziaja, receive nonstop samples of toothpastes in his Macomb and Clarkston offices. About a year ago, she had an idea to do something amazing with the samples of toothpaste — and of other personal hygiene products that dentists and doctors received.
And that's how the Rochester Hills teen made a Clean Start.
A donation for the record books
Danielle, who will be a senior at Detroit Country Day, started the Clean Start Service Project, which collects personal items and school supplies to donate to local organizations that help the needy.
To date, she has collected 12,640 items. They have come from dentists and doctors, from a collection drive at , where she attended school, and from her friends and family.
Last month, she donated half of the items to the . The other half went to the Lighthouse of Oakland County, where leaders said Danielle's donation was the largest in 32 years by an individual.
"We greatly appreciate this," said Dr. Sharman Davenport, a Lighthouse director. Lighthouse serves 11,000 families in Oakland County, providing them with food and emergency supplies. "I was very impressed with Danielle, especially at her age, with her commitment and dedication. It's remarkable that she has this passion, and I thought her idea was very unique."
Linda Riggs is director of the Neighborhood House, which helps Rochester-area residents who are in need. Riggs echoed Davenport's comments.
"This time of year, especially, we are running low on supplies, and so this was very appreciated," Riggs said.
"She did all of this on her own — she was looking for a way to give back and recognized there would be this need in the community.
"It was just incredible."
Danielle, 17, the daughter of Bob and Rose Ziaja, 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 plans to continue collecting items through the end of her senior year at Country Day.
How to help
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.
For more information, see the organization's Facebook page and become a fan.