TAMPA — Ashira Pelt watched the children she counsels at the Boys & Girls Clubs gather for lunch and noticed a few seemed overly eager.
"You can tell the ones that really need the food," said Pelt, a Hillsborough High graduate who moves on to Mount Holyoke College this fall. "They're not getting lunch as much as they're trying to stock up on food."
Kevin Ramirez, a fellow Hillsborough grad who will attend the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, got up close with people who wondered where their next meal was coming from when he helped the Homeless Coalition of Tampa Bay survey the county's homeless.
"I saw the faces and heard what they had to say."
Rafael Migoyo moves on from Jesuit High to Saint Leo University. He will take with him the memory of the downtrodden he helped serve at Trinity Cafe.
"I was touched not only by the amount of people who volunteer, but the amount of people who need help," Migoyo said.
On Saturday, these three teens join others across the state to continue their volunteer work through a new organization called Florida Youth Against Hunger. Members will hold events in Tampa, Tallahassee and Miami to raise awareness of hunger.
The Tampa event will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the patio area at Ybor City's Cuban Club, 2010 N Avenida Republica De Cuba, and will feature performances from local youth bands, dancers and spoken word poets.
So how did three kids end up choosing to take on the daunting task of combating hunger? Well, it started with a special program in Tallahassee in April.
Spurred by their involvement in Children's Week and the Teens Only Town Hall Meeting during the legislative session, the three 18-year-olds and their newfound friends from that event vowed to do more after meeting with state officials and representatives.
Fellow panelist Matthew Morris turned their attention to the plight of hungry in Florida. They soon learned that 17.1 percent of Florida households are "food insecure," meaning they lack consistent access to a nutritious, well-balanced diet. More than 20 percent of all Florida children, approximately 850,000, fit that description.
The statistics helped open their eyes. It's why the vision of those sad faces they came in contact with during their volunteer efforts remain fresh.
Now, at a time when no one would fault them for focusing on their collegiate futures, they're collecting food donations, calling on elected officials to come up with hunger solutions and encouraging the public to take action.
"I've been telling my friends I can't go to the movies because I'm working on this event," said Pelt, a 2010 winner of the Bank of America Student Leaders program. "But I've also said, 'Come meet me and help with the event.' "
Some have donated a portion of their paychecks to help, she said, "and that's a lot."
The group is asking the public to donate food that is high in nutritional value such as vegetables, fruits and tuna. Donations will be divided among local food banks, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations that will be at the Cuban Club to educate the public about the services they provide.
For more information about Florida Youth Against Hunger, visit the organization's website at wix.com/youth2011/fyah.