Three children raise $350,000 for charity and improve the world

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Katie Stagliano started growing food at age 9. Now she oversees 49 gardens in 22 states.

Courtesy of Stacey Stagliano, Courtesy of Nadine Bouler

Before they finish middle school, some precocious youngsters are taking on bigger problems than getting the go-ahead for a sleepover, winning a soccer game or scoring an "A" on a test.

Take, for example, Katie Stagliano, 13, Olivia Bouler, 12, and Leah Prager, 13. On the one hand, they are normal kids who like animals, swimming and soaking up the summer sun. On the other, they've collectively raised more than $350,000 for charity and founded their own nonprofit organizations. Their passion for serving the community is bringing neighborhoods together and inspiring other children to get out and make a difference, too.

Katie Stagliano, 13

For Katie, it all started with a cabbage.

To wrap up a unit about plants, Katie's third-grade teacher passed out cabbage seedlings. Katie didn't know much about gardening, but she took one home, planted it and watered it each day. The cabbage grew and grew and grew until it weighed 40 pounds.

Forty pounds of cabbage was too much food for one 9-year-old girl and her family, Katie knew. So, inspired by her father's daily lectures about cleaning her plate because "there are starving children," she decided to give it away. With her parent's help, she contacted a local soup kitchen and delivered the monstrous vegetable. Two days later, after the cabbage had been cooked up with some rice and ham, she put on an apron and proudly helped serve some 275 meals.

Katie was on top of the world.

"I was Superman that day," she said.

She wanted to hold onto that feeling, so she decided to plant more vegetables.

"One vegetable helped feed 275 people," she thought. "Imagine if I planted a bunch of vegetables. How many people would that feed?"

Soon, all the flowerbeds and flowerpots in her parent's backyard were converted to vegetable gardens. Her dad said "enough" when she asked to plant tomatoes in the front yard, but Katie still wasn't satisfied. She went to the headmaster of her K-12 school and asked for land to plant a garden. He gave her permission to use an empty lot adjacent to the playground. She borrowed tillers from neighbors, got donations from local nurseries, recruited the help of her classmates and planted a few rows of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash.

That first crop was small, but now Katie oversees eight gardens in Summerville, S.C., where she lives. After becoming an official nonprofit organization in 2010, Katie's Krops, as she named her venture, started giving grants to children across the United States who want to grow vegetables for the needy. The gardens — 49 in all, spread among 22 states — have produced thousands of pounds of okra, squash and other fresh vegetables to soup kitchens.

"It's pretty amazing to watch her in action," said Cory Fuller, director of education for Katie's Krops and Katie's former sixth-grade teacher. "She directs everything. This is all her idea, her dreams. We're all just along for the ride."

Olivia Bouler, 12

Olivia, who lives in Islip, N.Y., was inconsolable when she heard about the oil spill in the Gulf Coast in 2010. She had spent many vacations there with her grandparents, watching the birds. She knew it was nesting season. She knew the birds were going to suffer.

Her parents felt helpless, watching their little girl sob.

"How could we comfort her?" said Olivia's mom, Nadine Bouler. "There is no comfort. We knew it was true."

So they prayed together.

"Please let us find a way to help," they prayed.

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