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Ridgecrest students donate books and school supplies after reading a story about a child in need.

The students were inspired by a fictional character but their good deeds will create some very real results.

Fifth-graders at Ridgecrest Elementary School recently wrapped up a project to collect school supplies for foster children after reading the award-winning children's book, Pictures of Hollis Woods.

On Wednesday, the kids donated 100 backpacks filled with school supplies and new books to Suncoast Voices for Children, which supports the guardian ad litem program.

"The cool thing about this is it's really kids helping kids," said Donna Rasmussen, director of the guardian ad litem program in the 6th Judicial Circuit.

The kids were touched by Hollis' character, a preteen who has bounced between foster homes since infancy, said their teacher Jeanne Wellings, who led theproject.

Under the direction of Wellings and Ridgecrest bookkeeper Charles Derexson, the kids solicited donations, kept a budget, bought supplies and documented their project through photos and video.

Derexson volunteers with Suncoast Voices for Children and is also the president of the Pinellas County Council of PTAs, which is challenging other schools to launch theproject, too.

Each backpack includes two new books. The older kids will get a copy of Pictures of Hollis Woods, courtesy of Barnes and Noble on Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

"I think they'll be able to relate to it," said 10-year-old Kirby Bright.

Like Hollis, many kids placed with foster families leave their homes with few or none of their personal belongings, said Derexson.

Simon Akanoukh, 10, said he would "feel really bad" if he had to leave behind all of his things.

"We hope it will make a difficult experience a little easier," Simon told the crowd at a kid-led news conference announcingtheir efforts.

Funding came from a $1,000 Teach for Excellence minigrant from the Pinellas Education Foundation, and donations from various corporations.

Sarah Freeman, who was in charge of advertising, said she hoped the supplies would offer a little stability for kids who are facing so many unknowns.

All children need and deserve a family to call their own, said Elexiah Barber, 11.

"From Hollis, we learned that families come in all shapes and sizes and that no family is perfect," she said. "We also learned to appreciate our own families; for wherever there is love, there is family."

Rita Farlow can be reached at or (727) 445-4162.