Celebrity visits Tice Elementary to raise awareness over program
Actress and singer Hilary Duff was greeted by hundreds of smiles, flashing cameras and banners Wednesday morning at Tice Elementary as she visited to promote a program that helps students who cannot afford school lunch.
Duff addressed students and faculty, and later was assisted by three students — Cornesha Campbell, Yuliana Zarco and Sierra Irving — to pack backpacks full of ready-to-eat, non-perishable food.
Irving even wore a homemade T-shirt proclaiming “Tice Elementary loves Hilary Duff.”
“There is a tremendous need, there are kids who are hungry and that should never happen,” said Duff. “These kids are our future and the families are thankful.”
After arriving in Lee County at 4 p.m. Tuesday Duff held a fund-raiser at Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. Tonight she leaves Southwest Florida to visit two schools in Detroit and three in Toronto, Canada.
Five years ago Duff was approached by Stan Curtis, creator of the Blessings in a Backpack program, to collect items of food during her live concerts.
Any person attending one of her concerts was asked to bring a can of food, and so far more than 11 million meals have been collected. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Duff brought 2.5 million meals to victims in the community.
The Blessings in a Backpack program was created by Curtis in 2005 to help elementary children in Title I schools. Often from lower socioeconomic families, each of the students in the program are registered in the federally-funded free or reduced lunch program.
So far, Tice Elementary is the only Lee County school enrolled in the program and 62 percent of children in the county receive free or reduced lunch — a 12 percent increase since last year, according to district officials.
“It was nice to come to this school because you have a beautiful school,” said Curtis
Dr. Connie Jones, chief academic officer for the school district, said that out of more than 100 schools in Lee County, Blessings in a Backpack chose a special school to kick off its program in Southwest Florida.
“There isn’t any greater act of kindness than to give back to your fellowman and community,” said Jones.
The Tice Elementary choir performed its rendition of Duff’s 2003 “Come Clean” from the Metamorphosis album.
The visiting celebrity also received a self-portrait from one student, as well as countless letters and pictures she plans on hanging up in her Los Angeles office.
Her Fort Myers visit was not only to promote Blessings in a Backpack, but also to inspire the students to pursue their dreams.
“It’s 2009 and if you believe in yourself it is totally possible,” said Duff. “We are born with all of the tools, and if you don’t have an ideal situation it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She also stressed the importance of the arts and music in schools.
“Having music programs in schools in an escape for kids,” said Duff, who added that it is important for students to be able to express their creativity.