ZEPHYRHILLS — As a 7-year-old student at Centennial Elementary School in Dade City, Brooke Thomas noticed that some of her friends and classmates had a problem. And she felt compelled to help.
"Some of my friends were on free and reduced-price lunch, and they couldn't spend 75 cents to buy an extra snack," the Zephyrhills girl said. "They would ask me, 'Can you buy me one?' It made me so upset to see them hungry."
Using her lunch money account, Brooke started to buy extra food for about five of her friends.
"It made me feel happy that I could help," she said.
Soon Brooke's mother, Dianna Thomas, noticed that her daughter's lunch money account was being depleted at a rapid pace. When she asked for a reason, Thomas found herself heartbroken by the response.
"She told me, 'Some of my friends are hungry, and I bought them some stuff,' " Dianna Thomas said.
Soon Dianna and Brooke, along with Dianna's husband, Wade Thomas, owner of the Thomas and Son car dealership in Zephyrhills, decided to take action. Four years ago, the family founded the Thomas Promise Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization that serves needy students at east Pasco schools.
Each week, the foundation delivers 1,000 filled backpacks to 20 schools — care packages that provide full weekend meals to families of kids in kindergarten through Grade 12.
Now the kid who spent her lunch money to help a few friends works as an active volunteer at Thomas Promise, devoting up to eight hours a week during the school year and 30 hours weekly during the summer.
"I practically live here during the summer," said Brooke, who turned 12 on Oct. 19 and is a student at Centennial Middle School.
As she packs knapsacks that contain full breakfasts, lunches and dinners, plus drinks and snacks, for children and their families, Brooke also is earning nationwide recognition for her and her family's efforts. Featured in the April edition of People magazine, Brooke and her mom also were named Everyday Heroes in the October edition of Good Housekeeping magazine. In addition, the Tampa Bay Lightning named Brooke as a Lightning Community Hero. And she served as the junior grand marshal of the Main Street Zephyrhills parade.
Mom couldn't be more proud.
"I can see the compassion and kindness in her," Dianna Thomas said. "I know that her work with Thomas Promise will always keep her grounded. She'll always know to be grateful for what she has."
Brooke plans to continue her work with the organization that she inspired.
"When I get older, I want to be a marine biologist. And I want to keep on working here," she said as she gestured around the Thomas Promise warehouse. "This will always be here."
As she continues to work toward her goals and ambitions, Brooke finds that some of her classmates thank her personally for her work with Thomas Promise.
"One of my friends told me that the food we send helps her and her little brother," Brooke said, adding with a smile, "Another friend asked if I could slip a few more cookies into her pack."