OZONA — Anyone who thinks they can't do much to feed the hungry needs to spend a few minutes listening to Ian Seibert.
A second-grader at Curtis Fundamental Elementary School in Dunedin, Ian recently gathered 235 food items from his Ozona neighborhood to donate to the food pantry operated by Palm Harbor's Food Emergency and Service Team, known as F.E.A.S.T.
"'I heard people in our neighborhood needed food, and I decided for the second time to do a food drive," said Ian, the son of Thomas and Eda Seibert. "It's not hard. I have a lot of free time to run around outside, and this helps the community."
This is his second year helping to feed the hungry.
First, he talks to his neighbors about where the food is going. If no one is home, he leaves a letter explaining what he would have said in person. He notifies them of the date he will return to pick up their donation. He leaves a bag, which Publix has donated to the cause.
On a recent Sunday, Ian, his mother and his little brother, Will, 5, rode around the neighborhood to pick up food. Last year, Ian picked up the staples in a golf cart. This year, he had to rely on his mom to drive him in her car.
"This year, it rained," Eda Seibert said. "Some people double-bagged their donations for us. One left food in a big Tupperware container. We made three trips throughout Sunday because of that — the first before church, one after and the last around 5."
While Ian says he likes his free time, enjoys sports and likes to run, he really liked going around the neighborhood collecting food to help people. So when other children might have been at the beach or playing video games, Ian was making a run to the food pantry.
Think Ian complained? No way.
He arrived smiling. That made Walt Anderson, director of F.E.A.S.T., smile, too.
"We feed 3,000 people a month, and the need is only growing," he said. "Ian's chosen a food drive to concentrate on, and he's done a fabulous job. He gets a terrific response. I think it's because the neighbors are touched to see he's so caring."
Ian could just leave notes for neighbors, but he takes time to speak to everyone who is home. He explains what he's doing and why. He even encourages his friends to start their own food drives.
While he collected lots of good donations, a few donated items had long passed the expiration date. One item expired in 1999. Last year, one read, Use by 1996. But Ian adds, "We check them." So do Anderson and the F.E.A.S.T. volunteers.
Ian's mom is quick to explain to him: Sometimes people simply don't pay attention to expiration dates. Ian nods.
He's learned a lot about philanthropy and knows his family is better off than many who rely on groceries they get twice a month from F.E.A.S.T. What started as a school project has become a passion for him.
"He has to do a community service project for his gifted program at school," his mom said. "We gave him the choice to decide what he wanted to do. We'd recently received a letter from the Salvation Army showing the number of people in our community who needed food. Ian decided on the food drive again. We're very proud of him."
Ian collected items ranging from peanut butter to tuna, pasta to hot chocolate mix, spaghetti sauce to cake mixes, from a total of 75 homes. He's already planning what to do differently next time.
Next year, he hopes to gather even more food and invite more people to donate.
"Next year, we will print more letters," Ian said. Then, with the optimism of an 8-year-old, he added, "Next year, we'll pick up the food on a day when it's not raining."