Nine-year-old Makayla Curtin of Largo has bouncy curls, big blue eyes and the ear-to-ear smile of a child enjoying her day. ¶ A fourth-grader at Curtis Fundamental School in Dunedin, Makayla resembles most of her classmates in her love of school, friends and the activities she participates in daily. ¶ This year, though, when her classmates wrote letters to Santa, the soft-spoken girl set herself apart from the rest: She asked Santa to help those in need rather than to bring toys to her.
"I thought really, really hard about the letter," Makayla said Friday, "and I thought it would be nice for a family to have hot food to put on the table for their children."
Makayla's generosity is a source of pride to her parents.
"She is really a great kid with the largest, most giving heart of any child I've ever met," said her mother, Lisa Curtin, 34.
Makayla asked Santa for two things in her letter: snow, and food for the hungry. Snow, she realized, wasn't going to happen in Largo, but maybe, with her help, Santa could feed needy families for the holidays.
She wasn't going to leave all the work to Santa. Printing carefully on notebook paper, she wrote a flier stating her objective: "My Christmas wish is food for the poor," she wrote. "I sent a letter to Santa so he can help, but I also would appreciate it if you would donate one or more canned goods to my food drive."
The flier went out — to neighbors and to Anytime Fitness, a gym that agreed to be a dropoff location for the canned goods. Lisa Curtin also posted the flier on her Facebook page.
The food drive will continue through Thursday. While the public is asked to drop off donations at Anytime Fitness, some of the Curtins' neighbors have been bringing their canned goods to the family, which includes Makayla's father, Jason Curtin, a lieutenant for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and her brother, Conor, 6.
"I wanted her to see the beginning and the end of her selflessness," Lisa Curtin said of her daughter and the food drive they organized.
Makayla comes by her generosity naturally. That spirit of giving has been evident in her maternal grandparents, Peggy and Roger Canevari of Raleigh, N.C., and in her parents as well.
"Mom was diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer in the last decade," said Lisa Curtin of Peggy Canevari. "Now each year my parents do a motorcycle ride to raise money for Pretty in Pink."
The nonprofit Pretty in Pink Foundation, with headquarters in Raleigh, provides funds for uninsured cancer patients.
Makayla followed her grandparents' example. At age 6, she participated in a kids' triathlon to raise money for cancer. Charging $5 to put someone's name on the back of her shirt (mother and daughter printed each name themselves), the girl raised $500, all of which she donated to the Pretty in Pink Foundation.
She also had a garage sale, Curtin said, and gave all of that money to Pretty in Pink as well.
"In two years she raised more than $1,200 for the foundation, all on her own," Curtin said.
The family believes in giving back to their community.
"In past years, we have brought meals to shelters and participated in other community projects through school and Scouts," Curtin said. Her children were part of those efforts.
Makayla's canned goods drive is a natural outgrowth of examples set by those before her, and the food drive probably won't be the last step for the 9-year-old. She also hopes to find blankets and shelters for people who need warmth.
"The spirit of Santa is in all of us," Curtin said. "It is time for us to come together and help each other."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz may be reached at (727) 254-4126.