Leader of the pack: Girl, 12, organizes backpack drive

MANATEE — At age 12, Anna Higginbotham is an old hand at gathering backpacks for children who couldn’t otherwise afford one.

Last year, she organized a drive which collected more than 450 backpacks to be distributed to kids through Stillpoint House of Prayer.

This year, she’s enlisted the youth group at Our Lady of The Angels Catholic Church and is hoping to collect 900 backpacks, which will be distributed to migrant farmworker families, schools in Bradenton and East Manatee, and Stillpoint.

Anna’s mother, Beth, theorizes that her daughter soaked up the example of church volunteers and was inspired by their good works.

“She put so much thought into it and she came out with a great idea,” Beth Higginbotham said.

The key was going to Stillpoint House of Prayer in Bradenton over Christmas break a year and a half ago and seeing how many families were being helped by Sister Nora Brick and her staff.

“I saw how many kids came in there looking for clothes and other things they needed,” Anna Higginbotham said.

The St. Martha Catholic School student knew she had helped meet a need when she saw some of the children at Stillpoint picking up their backpacks.

“The kids were so excited. It didn’t seem like they had the opportunity to get something like this before,” Anna said.

Maureen Flaherty, director of youth ministry at Our Lady of The Angels, said her teens have had good success with generous donations of school supplies and those will go into as many backpacks as possible.

The youth group has taken the initiative of approaching businesses for permission to place donor bins.

“Walking their faith” is what Flaherty calls it.

“We want to double our goal. We’ll do our best and let God do the rest. The community has been amazingly supportive. It’s a great community,” Flaherty said. “Every time you open the paper, there is someone doing something good.”

The youth group at Our Lady of The Angels has grown from four members — three middle high schoolers and one high schooler — six months ago to 34. Enough for a celebration like “an excellent shaving cream fight” to celebrate the completion of decorating donor bins.

Bins will be available for donations through Aug. 10 at Rita’s Ice and Custard, 8382 Market St.; Little Bookworms, 8111 Lakewood Ranch Main Street; Sea Star Cafe, 11544 Palmbrush Trail; Office Depot, 4502 State Road 64 East; YMCA, 5100 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.; Beef O’Brady’s, 6702 Manatee Ave. W.; Chloe Consignment, 1731 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.; Schindel Orthodontics, 9090 58th Drive E., #100; Arts A Blaze, 8111 Lakewood Ranch Main St., Suite 107; and Our Lady of The Angels, 12905 S.R. 70 E.

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