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    She nourishes a sense of altruism

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Mae O'Grady, here working with Dawn Bearlapp, left, and Debbie Hammons, center, taught kids at Oakhurst Elementary School about world hunger and showed them how to help. She is contemplating a similar program at Seminole High School, where she is the food manager.

    By JULIANNE WU

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2000


    SEMINOLE -- While she saw to it that students at Oakhurst Elementary School in Largo were fed nutritious meals, Mae O'Grady also tried to give them food for thought about global hunger.

    O'Grady taught Oakhurst students how to collect food and money for local anti-hunger efforts and make and distribute fliers and pamphlets on the issue. She also taught them how much better fed they are than many people in the world.

    One of her projects, Nickels for NAC (the Nutrition Advisory Council), earned O'Grady and her students the state's Nutrition Advisory Council of the Year Award last year.

    Now, after eight years at Oakhurst, O'Grady is food manager at Seminole High School. And she wants to continue her educational efforts there.

    "I like to work with kids," said O'Grady, 47, of Seminole. "And I just wanted them to realize how very fortunate we are in the United States, that our school lunch program is way more than adequate. I also wanted them to be thankful and think of the poor children who only get a bowl of rice to eat for lunch."

    She plans on starting a similar humanitarian project at Seminole High this spring.

    "I need to get used to my new job first," she said. "I think I might be comfortable enough to tackle a project in the spring, and I know lots of former Oakhurst students who now go to school here who might participate."

    In Nickels for NAC, nine fourth- and fifth-graders met with O'Grady weekly to discuss their project. They learned about world hunger from a local nutritionist, created a food pyramid game for Oakhurst's annual fall festival, collected canned goods for the Tampa Bay Harvest and decorated collection cans for distribution to the various elementary, middle and high schools.

    Also, along with making banners and distributing fliers, some of the youngsters made personal visits to several high schools to collect money.

    "It was mostly small change . . . nickels, dimes and quarters," O'Grady said. "'But it added up and we surpassed our goal of $500."

    Two of the students -- 10-year-olds Christopher Rogers of Largo and Conrad Stuhl of Seminole -- said they miss O'Grady and the work they did together.

    "It was fun when we went to the high schools to collect money," said Christopher, who, like Conrad, is now in the fifth grade. "And it was nice to know we were saving people from hunger."

    Conrad, who also won first place for his poster in the NAC competition in his age group, added: "I even got a $10 bill from a high school girl. She said I was cute."

    Mary Lehman, a baker at Oakhurst School and a parent of a student involved in the program, worked with Mrs. O'Grady for three years on the humanitarian projects as a parent volunteer. In 1999, she won a state award from the Nutrition Council for that work.

    "The kids have learned so much," said Mrs. Lehman. "I want to help our new food manager (Jill Simoni) get involved in this, too. Right now, she's still getting used to her job."

    Mrs. O'Grady thinks she will have no trouble recruiting high schoolers for similar projects. "Kids are very concerned about what's happening in other kids' lives."

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