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Volunteers get a taste of fast-food world

(ran SE edition of LT)

"Oh, no! A trainee!"

That's what Sandra Brewster of Tarpon Springs thought to herself after the woman taking her order at McDonald's restaurant fumbled around trying to find the right cash register keys.

But it wasn't a trainee. It was Mayor Anita Protos, who was volunteering her time at the fast food restaurant to help raise money for the Tarpon Springs unit of the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast.

The mayor was among more than a dozen board members of the club who worked the 7 to 11 a.m. breakfast shift Sunday at the Tarpon Springs McDonald's, with on-the-job training from the regular staff at the restaurant on U.S. 19.

The payoff for the Boys & Girls Club: 50 percent of the gross receipts during the breakfast shift, courtesy of owner Jack Frost of Tampa. Restaurant manager Jim Sesslar said the unusually high Sunday breakfast receipts totaled nearly $1,600, with a rounded-off $800 going to the club.

"It's obvious many people came by especially for the fund-raiser," Sesslar said.

Chuck Ferrell, director of the Boys & Girls Club, said it serves nearly 350 children, ages 6 to 18, in the Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and Holiday areas. He said about 100 children go to the club each weekday for arts and crafts, athletics and a game room, plus tutoring sessions.

Mrs. Brewster, at McDonald's with daughters Brittany, 10, and Cassi, 6, said that after her initial skepticism of the "trainee" taking her order, she noticed the "mayor" tag on Mrs. Protos' shirt. Then she remembered meeting the mayor recently when Brittany was honored as student of the month at Tarpon Springs Fundamental School.

The volunteers included two other members of the City Commission: Blaine LeCouris, working as customer greeter, and Frank DiDonato, who toiled in the back cooking Egg McMuffins and pancakes alongside Charlie Phillips, executive director of the Greater Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Each of the volunteers had a "buddy" from the regular McDonald's crew to provide job guidance.

Despite Mrs. Protos' troubles finding the right keys from a large bank of individual item keys on the cash register, her buddy, Toni Dwyer, 16, a student at Hernando High School, said the mayor was doing a "very good" job. That evaluation came on only the fourth day that Dwyer herself has worked at McDonald's.

Mike Kouskoutis, a local lawyer, said he "panicked" when his buddy, Meme Brown, 24, of Tarpon Springs, went away momentarily and left him alone taking orders for the drive-up window.

"As long as she's here, I'm doing okay," Kouskoutis said.

Ron Cunningham, director of marketing for a Clearwater firm that processes credit card charges, said his stint cooking and wrapping breakfast sandwiches was a snap.

"I cooked for myself until I got married a week ago, and my wife has been training me since then," he quipped. His buddy, Donna Ortiz of Holiday, agreed that he "picked things up in no time."

Dr. Elizabeth Okulski said working both the front counter and the drive-up window "gives me a real appreciation of what the people who work here go through each day." Dr. Okulski is a pathologist at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital.

Other members of the club's board who volunteered their labor included Ron Melton, manager of the local K

mart; Joe Kiefer, administrator of Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital; Sally Jackson, an accountant at Pioneer Data Processing in Holiday; Mickey McGee, a retiree in Palm Harbor; Kathy Dobies, a dental hygienist in Palm Harbor; and Gwen Stevenson, editor of the Suncoast News.