NCHS Pura Vida Club to Host Food Packing Event This Weekend


Ian Knechtle, a 2010 NCHS graduate, came across a helpless boy nicknamed Zorro in his sophomore year, during a mission trip in Costa Rica that had been organized by a nonprofit that his mother had founded, Pura Vida for Children.

The Pura Vida club will be packing food for those in need this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The Pura Vida club will be packing food for those in need this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Lacking food and shelter, the boy saw Knechtle and others in the organization build him a home and provide the basic necessities that he lacked—items many would take for granted.

“We really saved his life,” recalled Knechtle, who would go on that year, 2007, to found the Pura Vida Club at New Canaan High School.

Since then, the organization has become a NCHS fixture and popular option among Club Fair sign-ups each fall.

Starting Friday and through the weekend, Pura Vida is teaming up with the nonprofit organization Feed My Starving Children for a food packing event at the NCHS cafeteria (sign up here to help). The meals that volunteers will pack are scientific formulas designed to help starving children ward off malnutrition. The club’s goal is to pack 250,000 meals over the course of the weekend, but it will be impossible without 1,000 volunteers, Knechtle said.

“These kids who are on the brink of death…this food really comes and saves their lives, but it also really progresses their lives,” he said. “Without food, nothing is really possible. These kids can go on to school, they can live their lives, and they can have a chance to actually have a big impact on society and in their community.”

One Pura Vida member who will be volunteering this weekend, NCHS junior Caroline Knightly, credited fellow members with helping her become a better leader.

“Watching what they do and how they interact with people encourages me to do even more,” Knightly said.

She added, “Ian has always kept a positive attitude at club meetings and makes everything we do fun and worthwhile. Having someone like him to look up to really encourages me to put that much more effort into making the club the best it can be.”

Much of Knechtle’s positivity and dedication to Pura Vida comes from his personal interactions with people in need, he said. Knechtle, current Student Leader of the Pura Vida Club, said the group is evolving so that its work is more regular.

“Instead of just going on one trip every summer, we wanted to find a way to really make an impact all year round,” he said.

That’s true to the club’s mission.

With the help of his mother, Sharon, and a few other founding members—Conor House, Dunkin Fox, Morgan Boniface, Will Slemp and Tim Sachs—Knechtle created Pura Vida in order “to impact as many orphans, families, and children across the world as possible, but also impact local high schoolers and local communities who are in need,” he said.

The club does not have to go far to find people in need of Pura Vida’s help, he added.

“We can really just drive right down the road,” Knechtle said. Today, the club strives to open the minds of the New Canaan high schoolers to the suffering and struggles that people face every day, he said.

Pura Vida’s service projects include St. Luke’s Lifeworks in Stamford, the Carver Center in Norwalk and the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. Its members raise money by hosting events to spread awareness as well as tie-dying and selling T-shirts. One of their goals is to inspire others to ‘Dare to Care,’ he said.

Pura Vida for Children—founded by Sharon Knechtle in 2005—and the Pura Vida Club at NCHS are well known organizations in town, which means that there is high interest in participation at the high school. Although the club always receives a large number of signups during the Club Fair in the fall, Knechtle said that it is difficult to find high schoolers who are dedicated to giving up time out of their busy schedules to help others.

However, he said, “We’ve got a strong group of leaders right now, and they’ve done a great job with organizing and recruiting others.”

The club is still recruiting last-minute volunteers for this weekend and Knechtle stressed how important it is for more people to sign up, especially for Saturday’s shifts. It is in the process of raising more money to cover the event, he said. The event will feature music and dancing, as well as stories shared by Pura Vida members.

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