BROOKSVILLE — As Gulf Coast Academy seventh-grader Anthony Crooks, 12, prepared for his required "pay it forward" project, he approached his mother for a venue.
Lisa Crooks is a West Hernando Middle School teacher; Tina Tauriello is the school's PTA president.
Tauriello also runs Kids Closet from her home, providing clothes and other items to Hernando County youth. Anthony wanted to do a clothing drive for Kids Closet, but Tauriello had another idea. What she needed, she said, was toiletries.
Dubbing his project "Toiletries Thursday," Anthony came to the school each week for three weeks to coordinate the collection.
When he finished, his mother kept it up, collecting even more. The class that collected the most items won a pizza party, paid for by Tauriello.
The winners were a combination of the school's two self-contained varying exceptionalities classes.
"This is a special needs class, and they actually collected over 800 items and they won first place," said exceptional student education teacher Shilah Anderson, who teamed with ESE teacher Karen Shaffer in the collection effort.
"It was a really good learning experience," Anderson said. "They now know what toiletries are."
Barbara Agresto, a paraprofessional in Anderson's classroom, described another lesson: helping others.
"We do have a wonderful class," she said. "I'd say a good 99 percent brought stuff in. We just tried every day to instill how others are important."
Seventh-grader Alexis McElhaney, 13, apparently absorbed the lesson.
"We already have a lot, so we need to give people more stuff that they need," she said.
Sixth-grader Trinity Deleon, 13, said she felt really happy about her donations, "because the people need it."
"We all worked together," Anderson said, "and we thought it was important for them to help each other out."
The other paraprofessionals in the ESE department are Lynn Morano, Chris Theiss and Diane Hosman.
The pizza party-winning children were sixth-graders Brian Beatty, Trinity Deleon, Michal Nonnenmaker and Mychael Ramsey; seventh-graders Rebecca Hemmelgarn, Harlee Klauka, Alexis McElhaney, Jacob Norcia, Chris Rae, Aeron Smith, Jaylen Williams and Katelyn Ysbrand; and eighth-graders Charles Frantz, William Turner, Loren Romine, Ollivia Wernert and Kross Shaw.