Thursday, December 24, 2009

Miss Florida USA lends pageantry to shelter giveaway

Front Page of the Daytona New Journal

Staff writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- Barely able to make her way up the sidewalk into the entrance of the STAR Family shelter, Miss Florida USA was surrounded by elementary school girls touching her beaded white and black bracelet and long necklace.

Once inside the homeless shelter off North and Segrave streets, Megan Clementi slipped on her sash and crown and was ready to hand out presents to close to 50 children.

Clementi, 26, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida, joined Daytona Beach Fire Department officials and volunteers from God's Willing Workers as children filled a room in the shelter, each picking out a couple of toys and a stuffed animal.

"It's so much fun. I feel like Santa Claus," said Clementi, after picking out a doll for Jasmine Coleman, 2.

Lisa Marie Kieffer said the toys made her two children's Christmas come true. Her 11-year old daughter, Lily Gutman, spent a lot of time in the room trying to pick out the right two toys. She finally settled on a doll and a small stuffed animal dog. They've lived at the shelter for two months after coming here from Sarasota. Kieffer is planning to start classes at a truck driving school in February.

"God bless everybody who came here and donated," Kieffer said. "It's good for the children to feel that people care."

Toys were donated from many sources, including "Our" Children First and the Fire Department, which stepped up and got extra toys from Port Orange Fire Rescue and the Daytona Beach Police Department.

Event organizer Verlinda Johnson, 61, founder and director of God's Willing Workers, who gave out toys last year at the shelter, was thrilled that other organizations helped, as well as some area stores.

"My Christmas is to put a smile on the face of a child, especially those who are homeless," Johnson said. "I want them to see real love today."

Clementi was named Miss Florida USA 2010 in July and will compete in Miss USA in April. She said her platform is centered around children. The Orlando resident heard about the homeless shelter from a friend in the area and wanted to "give some amazing kids some presents."

She also volunteered to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving Day with the Salvation Army in Daytona Beach. She hopes to raise awareness for philanthropic organizations and encourage volunteerism.

The former Orlando Magic dancer of five years and captain for three is still involved in helping to emcee the home games. After being at the shelter, she was headed to the game Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets.

The children also met Tia McDonald, 16, of Edgewater, who has won numerous titles including Miss Florida Junior National Teenager and Miss Space Coast Teen USA. McDonald went to the shelter last year to give the children toys and organized an Easter Egg hunt.

McDonald said she's been through hard times, losing her house to a fire when she was little and being raised by a single mom, and she thinks "it's important to help those in need."

Some of the girls were fascinated by their crowns and said they can dance and sing and want to be in a pageant one day.

"I love watching pageants," said Jelea Singleton, 11, who recently organized a talent show at the shelter. "I want to be in one -- any one that I can win at."

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