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One night in 2009, the Buss family was driving home from their church’s food drive when Grace, now 12, asked about the homes of the people they were helping. When she and her sisters Anna and Abigail ­– now 16 and 9 – learned that some of the people didn’t have homes and didn’t have food every day, they were shocked.

“I was just really kind of heartbroken,” Grace says. “I always grew up thinking everybody was happy.”

That same night, the Buss family talked more about hunger and homelessness in their community. They discussed how one person ends up struggling to find a home while another may not have that difficulty. They also talked about the basic foundations that people need in order to be successful and self-sufficient.

From this discussion, the three sisters created Live Civilly, an organization that provides food and other basic services to improve the community and its members. The girls selected three service areas they would focus on: nutrition, education and life-skills development.

The siblings were eager to begin with nutritional outreach, as they had already volunteered with many South Jersey food drives. But they had noticed that none of these drives allowed young people to be as involved as they would have liked. By starting Live Civilly, the sisters hoped to introduce a more inclusive and interactive system of giving back. Now, the organization accepts volunteers as young as age 4.

“If you get them started at a young age, they’ll have this kind of mindset that they’re going to want to help people their entire life,” Anna says. “Not many people grow up thinking about helping other people.”

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But the sisters do more than donate food. They focus on supporting all aspects of self-sufficiency, including gardening and education. Gardening is Abigail’s favorite volunteer work, so she works with other Live Civilly volunteers to plant gardens at schools around the area.

“I like teaching kids how to plant veggies if they want to make them in their home,” she says. “They could go to a place that sells seeds. Come home and plant them, and then they would know how much water it needs every day.”

Anna, who most enjoys tutoring other kids through Live Civilly’s homework health program, recalls one student who made her feel especially helpful.

“I remember sitting with this one girl,” Anna says. “She said, ‘I really don’t know how to do this math. Can you help me?’ I sat with her for an hour or two. By the end she was like, ‘Oh, I understand it. Thank you so much. I can impress my teacher, and I think I can get an A on my test.’ It felt really good. I thought, ‘Wow this changed a girl’s life a little bit.’”

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