BROOKSVILLE — It was one of Patrick O'Grady's goals. The social studies teacher wanted to help students learn to help others.
"This was a dream of mine for a while, to meet the local needs," said O'Grady, 46. "I think it's very important to help everyone you can."
And so the Nature Coast Technical High School Children's Crusade was born.
The group was formed in September, O'Grady said. "We started off with about 35" members, he said. The group has leveled off at about 25 active ones.
Senior Amanda Caniglia, 18, explained the group's purpose.
"This group is to help this community," she said, "and people who are in need." The group collects food, clothes and money, anything people need. The group also raises awareness in the school and community. "We actually help people. We don't just make posters."
Members have been busy. "We did a carwash," said sophomore Josh Homigman, 15. "It went fairly successfully. We raised a bit of money." That was in September. The United Way of Hernando County benefited.
"We're starting a blanket drive soon," said sophomore Summer Vasseur, 15.
Senior Ashley Lawrence, 17, works at an assisted living facility, as does her mother. Ashley placed a box there to collect food and clothes. Even residents contributed, she said.
"We had a fundraiser at the new Publix that opened up," said freshman Kayla Amundsen, 14. They stayed out there all day raising money and collecting food, "dancing and giving candy to kids," Kayla said.
The group helped Nature Coast Technical families, identified by guidance and the school's nursery, at Thanksgiving.
"We collected five turkeys and we bought (food) cans, and we gave them to families here at Nature Coast who needed them," said freshman Vivian O'Grady, 15, Patrick's O'Grady's daughter.
The group goes into the field.
"We helped out at the soup kitchen," said freshman Brianna Dinocento, 15. "We served the dinner and desserts." They did it through the Love Your Neighbor organization. "We also took them four boxes of clothing and three boxes of food," she added.
The group collected bags of food for Christmas.
"We had some pastas and vegetables, peaches, brownie mixes, soup, stuffing," said freshman Kylie Rickard, 14. "We tried to put a dessert in each bag, anything a family would like to have for dinner."
Senior Carlee Podvin, 17, added, "We provided, along with the bag, a tube of cookie dough, a turkey and a stuffed animal for each kid."
Students have also supported Jericho Roads, the Dawn Center, St. Vincent de Paul, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and New Beginnings.
O'Grady has handed out items to homeless people. Group members even have donated pet food and gift cards to the Humane Society of the Nature Coast. But O'Grady said their main concern is "families identified here."
A charity concert called Shark Aid takes place 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 13 at the school's stadium. Local bands 3 Weeks Notice, Radio Therapy, Southern Reign and Act of Class are scheduled to be there. Admission is $1 and two nonperishable food items. There will be games, food and music.
Some students described why they joined Children's Crusade.
"To help out the community," said freshman Jenna Carlson, 15. She said it saddens her when people don't have what they need.
O'Grady said fellow staff members help a lot. "They make this a part of what they're doing with their students," he said. Even the custodial staff is involved, collecting boxes and providing storage space.
"Whatever we do, we want to make sure it stays," said Josh. "We want to take the next step. This club gives us the opportunity to change something around us."
"I knew if the kids got a taste of what it's like to help," O'Grady said, "that they would never stop."