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Volunteer work earns Emily Ercius, 11, a Governor's Point of Light honor.

Edward Mathews, left, and Katina Thomas take their seats as Emily Ercius, 11, of St. Pete Beach serves dessert Christmas day at St. Vincent de Paul. Emily has been helping to feed the less fortunate for the past five years

LARA CERRI | Times

Edward Mathews, left, and Katina Thomas take their seats as Emily Ercius, 11, of St. Pete Beach serves dessert Christmas day at St. Vincent de Paul. Emily has been helping to feed the less fortunate for the past five years

ST. PETERSBURG

Emily Ercius was on her way to the movies when she spotted a group of homeless people.

She turned to her mother and asked, "Why are those people on the street?"

Soon after, her teacher at Pasadena Fundamental School assigned her class a volunteer project of its choice. Emily thought of those homeless people. She collected enough money to donate 32 turkeys to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul food bank.

That school assignment has turned into a labor of love. And on Christmas Day, five years and six tons of turkeys later, Emily, now 11, was named as a Governor's Point of Light.

"Emily's generous spirit and enthusiasm for helping others in need is truly inspiring," Gov. Charlie Crist said in announcing the award. "She has shown that there are no boundaries when it comes to supporting our neighborhoods and communities.''

Crist met Emily on Thanksgiving when he visited St. Vincent de Paul with his wife. He was unable to present the award in person, but made sure she received it in front of many of the homeless people she has helped.

"It makes me feel great that the governor" recognized me, Emily said.

As for volunteering, she said, "I've learned that it takes a lot of work. We are so fortunate to live in houses."

For the past five years, starting around Halloween, Emily puts out jars in stores and other businesses. She and her father spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays outside other stores collecting money.

The first year, she collected enough to buy 32 turkeys. This year, she raised about $2,700, enough for 378 turkeys and 250 pounds of nonperishable foods. She's also old enough now to help serve the 400 or so homeless who came to St. Vincent de Paul for Christmas dinner.

Emily's mom, Brenda, said she and her husband were thrilled when their daughter came up with the idea.

"Anyone that has compassion and empathy, that's a great thing," she said.

Patricia Waltrich, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, nominated Emily for the award.

"Emily's sensitivity to the plight of the less fortunate at such a young age is remarkable," she said. "She may be little, but her heart is huge and efforts to feed those in need, enormous."

Times staff writer Aaron Kesler contributed to this report. Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Volunteer work earns Emily Ercius, 11, a Governor's Point of Light honor. 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 9:24pm]
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