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Business owners give $13,000 to Oldsmar fifth-graders with a request: pay it forward

OLDSMAR

Oldsmar Elementary principal Michael Feeney delivered the good news to his fifth-graders earlier this month.

Each student would receive $150 in cash gift cards for the holidays.

To a kid that age, he said, $150 sounds like $1 million.

"A lot of them went, 'What's the catch?' "

The catch: $100 had to be spent on other people.

Feeney said he hoped at least a few students would take the challenge seriously. What happened next surprised him.

One student bought Subway gift cards and handed them out to homeless people.

Another gave money to a cousin who needed help paying for medication.

A girl gave her money to charity, including the $50 meant for herself.

Others spent the $100 on gifts for relatives, and one family was able to buy a Christmas tree.

"They impressed me with their ability to give," the principal said.

•••

It started back in September. Local business owner John Sanders came to Feeney and said he and his wife of 47 years, Joyce, wanted to teach students about the power of giving.

He and the principal brainstormed and came up with a plan.

John first planned to give students money to buy gifts for their families but decided to give extra to each student so they could shop for themselves. He also gave local stores a heads up: If a 10-year-old walks in, treat him or her like a real customer.

The Sanderses own Jamson Laboratories, a chemical manufacturing company based in Oldsmar. They started to give away money and gifts around Christmas in the 1980s as the company took off.

The couple made national news in November 2014 after paying off layaway balances for dozens of residents at the Oldsmar Walmart.

With 87 fifth-grade students at Oldsmar Elementary, Sanders and his wife spent a little more than $13,000.

Oldsmar Cares, a nonprofit that provides food, clothing and financial aid to people in need, received several donations from students.

Chairwoman Brenda Gaulin said any donation near the holidays has a big impact on the volunteer-run charity.

One of the students who donated told his mother he wanted to help people who needed it, she said.

"It's such a nice thing to see."

•••

Dozens of fifth-graders sat in the Oldsmar Elementary media center Friday, fidgeting as they waited for an assembly to start.

The room fell silent as a video montage of students started to play — a thank you to the Sanderses.

"You've helped so many people," said one student.

"You've helped so many families," said the next.

"You've helped me," said another.

Alicea Rhinehart, 10, bought Christmas gifts for her parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins and donated to Toys for Tots. She used the $50 gift to get her ears pierced.

"I feel really happy because I have the chance to give back," she said.

Other children shared stories during the assembly about how the money changed their lives.

Some students and teachers started to tear up. So did Joyce Sanders.

"I was just overwhelmed," she said afterward. "I've received more than what we gave."

Contact Ayana Stewart at astewart@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.

Business owners give $13,000 to Oldsmar fifth-graders with a request: pay it forward 12/18/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 10:12pm]
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