Student has a hunger for helping Hernando Elementary third-grader collects cans for district-wide food drive

When 8-year-old Piti Billups heard about the 18th annual Citrus County School Wide Food Drive, she thought about friends.

“Piti means beautiful flower in Indian — and she is,” said her mom, Kaylene Marie Smith. “She came home one day and asked if we we could save cans because there are students who have no food. She said her teacher is always bringing in food; she wished she could bring that much for the students, and then asked if she could ask a couple of neighbors to help.”

Piti has noticed when classmates don’t have a lot to eat, which has driven her to help anyone she sees holding a sign for food or for help.

“She’s really into watching YouTube videos of people helping others, and anytime she sees someone she has to give them money,” Smith said.

She set out enlisting her stepdad, Shaun Clifton, to build something that could easily transport canned goods — so he grabbed a dolly and strapped down a large box with bungee cords. Then she set out walking her neighborhood with her parents and siblings, pulling and dragging the dolly up and down driveway after driveway, collecting food from neighbors.

“About a week into it she said, we have a lot of cans, but we need more,” Smith said. “So, she spent her last $20 Christmas gift at the Dollar General for box foods. By the time she had finished, she had surpassed her goal and had 380 items to give to Ms. (Ashley) Roger’s class.”

She brought the cans into the school on Feb. 10 — adding to the total number of 3,000 items for Hernando Elementary School. All food donated in the school district will go to local nonprofits like Citrus United Basket, Daystar Life Center and the Family Resource Center.

“I don’t think she realizes she could do this much at her age. Now she is talking about collecting school supplies and backpacks for the school for next year,” Smith said. “She keeps saying we have to start now — there are so many who need help.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or

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