12-year-old Gavin Connell recently got hooked on the television show "Extreme Couponing."
His mother, Ilene Davidson, got him into the TLC program toward the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. She’d turn it on, and surprisingly, he started watching it with her.
"It’s amazing how they’re getting thousands of dollars worth of food for five dollars," Gavin said.
As the pandemic intensified, Gavin remained at home, focusing on school via remote learning and watching his new favorite show in his free time. Under normal circumstances he’d be bowling — the seventh-grader is on the high school varsity team.
Davidson and her son attend Fountainhead Congregation church in East Northport. Davidson, of Islip, is co-director of the Mariposa Family Assistance Program in the church. The ministry started collecting diapers, formula, wipes and other baby supplies to give out to those in need. At the height of the pandemic, the ministry did these curbside giveaways four times a week, said its director, Jessica Previti.
In April, Gavin got an idea.
"He was watching ‘Extreme Couponing’ on TV when everything was getting boring, and he thought, ‘I can do that,' " Davidson said.
Gavin got to work combing through coupons, memorizing the deals they offered, cutting them and storing them in a green binder. Soon enough, Davidson joked, "my household was like a disaster area of coupons."
Then Gavin and his mother would head to CVS, and to get the most for their buck, they’d use as many coupons as possible to purchase diapers and pull-ups for the ministry, along with formula and wipes.
"They needed them, and they were expensive," Gavin said. "So I figured I could use my coupons to cheapen the diapers up."
Gavin and Davidson took trips to CVS twice a week, every week, for about four months. Gavin would often split his order so he could use as many coupons as possible. Davidson said he had it down to a science: "He really did his research."
They’d purchase between 14 and 20 packages of diapers a week, Davidson said. Gavin said they’d usually have three shopping carts full of the supplies, which was sometimes overwhelming for the self-checkout machines in the East Islip CVS.
"So then we had to go to the cashier," Gavin explained. Sometimes checking out would last an hour because of how long it takes to apply each coupon. He’s saved his receipts from these trips to keep track of his savings.
Davidson was amazed by her son’s dedication to this effort. They even started collecting coupons from family members, neighbors and friends, who’d drop them into their mailbox.
"He was figuring out the math in his head," she said. "He has such a big heart to want to do this, to help people in need. He was doing that concrete planning that most adults like me can’t do."
Davidson and Gavin dropped off all their purchases at the church every week. Previti has known Davidson more than10 years, so she’s known Gavin since he was a baby. She’s proud of Gavin and said she was touched by how much he wanted to help.
"I’m so impressed with how organized he is, how much time and effort he puts in and how much he enjoys it," said Previti, of Huntington Station. "He’d be so excited to come in and show me his giant receipt and tell me how much money he saved."
The community has greatly benefited from Davidson’s generosity and Gavin’s couponing skills; diapers are rarely donated to the ministry, Previti said, but they’re greatly needed. They also give out baby clothes, food, toys, books and linens.
Previti, Davidson and other volunteers, wearing masks and social distancing, approach the people who come by in their cars to ask what they need. They make a detailed list; for example if someone asks for baby clothing, they’ll make sure to note the desired size. Then the volunteers go back inside the church to put together a box of items.
"We were averaging sometimes 30 to 50 families coming a day," Previti said.
Davidson estimates she and Gavin purchased about 400 packages of diapers in total. While Davidson still assists with the ministry’s efforts (they still offer curbside pickups of baby supplies every Sunday), Gavin’s couponing has slowed down for now while he focuses on school and bowling. But he said he wants to continue giving back to his community in the future.
And of course, his mother is very proud. "He did this all from watching a show."
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