NEWTON — February is National Children's Dental Health Month and one Sussex County high school student is doing her part to raise awareness by expanding on a project she first did several years ago.

Through last Thursday, Newton High School junior Nicolette Occhifinto had collected 2,300 toothbrushes, well exceeding her initial goal of 1,000, to give to the New Jersey-based nonprofit Donate a Toothbrush. Those toothbrushes, Occhifinto said, will be distributed to children who need them most in United States cities and third-world countries.

Occhifinto's collection was pulled from her school, her community, and from dentists' offices throughout her home county after the teen did online research and undertook a major letter-writing and telephone campaign. She said her mother had originally pitched the idea when Nicolette was in middle school and was required to do a service project for the National Junior Honor Society.

The concept was simple: Toothbrushes are lightweight and everyone needs them, so why not try to provide them to as many people as possible?

This time around, Occhifinto said she was overwhelmed by the support her project received.

"It's just such a great feeling to feel that you're helping someone else that you don't even know and you don't know what kind of change that's going to have on their life," she said. "You just don't realize what other people have and what they don't have, and it's a simple thing of a toothbrush that can really impact somebody's life."

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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