The Philanthropist


The philanthropist

Girl wins recognition for efforts to help needy, conserve water

By Brenda Rindge The Post and Courier Monday, July 13, 2009

She’s concerned about feeding the hungry and conserving water.

She has designed award-winning T-shirts and ice-cream bars and has been featured on the national news.

She’s also just 10 years old, but Summerville resident Katie Stagliano seems to have the golden touch.



Summerville residents Katie Stagliano, 10, and her brother, John Michael, 6, unload vegetables donated during a food drive June 26 that collected more than 500 pounds of fresh vegetables and canned goods.

It all started a couple of years ago when the Stagliano family — Stacy, a stay-at-home mom and Parent Teacher Organization president; dad John, who runs several businesses; Katie; and brother John Michael, now 6 — were going on a long road trip.

Stacy gathered activities to keep the kids busy, including an e-mail about the Nestle Flavorologist for a Day contest, which invited youngsters to invent original, appetite-engaging frozen treats.

As they drove, they talked about ideas such as the Citrus Pop, Mud Puddle Splash and Sunshine Pop.

But it was Criss-Cross Applesauce, a green pop that looks like an apple wedge with streaks of cinnamon and a cinnamon candy center, that made Katie one of 10 national winners. She received a cash prize that the family invested toward her college; gift cards to Target, and Toys ‘R’ Us; two years’ worth of free ice cream; and an ice cream party for her school.

Then Katie decided to donate part of her winnings to her school, Pinewood Prep, by buying books for its library.

“It’s funny,” the soft-spoken rising fifth-grader says now, “from then on, most of the big contests I entered, I won.”

Her awards are so numerous that Katie has to refer to binders and scrapbooks to remember details and timelines.

“I can’t keep up with her,” says mom Stacy. “It kind of snowballs, and one thing leads to another.”

Also in 2008, Katie was working on a school project when she learned about drought conditions at Lake Moultrie. She then inspired her school and family to implement conservation efforts such as low-flow shower heads.

That issue was still on her mind when she entered the “Dr. Fresh” national toothbrush design contest with a toothbrush resembling a tree with a brown stem and green bristles, made from recycled materials, and a digital voice to remind users to turn off the tap while brushing.

She won the contest and earned herself a $500 savings bond and her family a trip to Disneyland.

Inspiration grows

That same year, Katie participated in Bonnie Plants’ Third Grade Cabbage Program through Pinewood. Each year, Bonnie Plants distributes seedlings to students across the country, awarding $1,000 scholarships to those who grow the biggest plants.

As Katie’s cabbage grew and grew, her family built a cage to keep it safe from rabbits and deer. The vegetable eventually reached 40 pounds, and Katie knew it was too big for just her family.



A 40-pound cabbage that Katie donated to a shelter helped feed nearly 300 people.

Fields to Families, a local organization that helps bring fruits and vegetables to the needy, suggested that she donate the enormous veggie to Tricounty Family Ministries’ soup kitchen in North Charleston. There, it ended up on the plates of nearly 300 people, served up, in part, by the Stagliano family.

“When I saw how many people it fed, that inspired me to grow more things,” Katie says.

She planted a garden in the backyard of their Pine Forest Country Club home and grows tomatoes, lettuce, rutabagas and more, all of which she donates.

“We had done gardens before just for us to eat,” she says. “Home-grown tastes so good, and it’s so easy to grow vegetables at home.”

“Anybody can stick a pot on the back porch and grow vegetables,” Stacy adds. “This is just such an easy concept, and so many people are in need.”

To help fund her project, Katie entered a “Launch My Dream” T-shirt design contest through Her “No Hungry Children … All it takes is a seedling” design was selected and is now sold at (under “shop fundraising tees”) with 10 percent of the proceeds donated to her gardens.

Again, she got her school involved, inspiring Pinewood volunteers to start a garden on the 43-acre campus. When Bonnie Plants heard about her efforts, it donated plants and supplies.

Katie now is matched up with Clemson Extension Service Master Gardener Lisa Turocy, who helps her decide what and when to plant on her plots.

And if that weren’t enough, last year Katie and John Michael also were among 20 nationwide finalists in the Chrysler Jimmy Adventures contest to see who could take cartoon character Jimmy Neutron on the best fantasy family adventure. They took a cardboard cutout of the character to Patriots Point.

National spotlight

As Katie’s gardening efforts gathered steam, word got out. This past spring, she was one of three youngsters from across the country honored at a formal event by Robroy Industries.



Katie was interviewed by ‘Today’ correspondent Natalie Morales earlier this year.

“NBC Nightly News” came and filmed a segment for their “Making a Difference” series that aired on April 22. Afterward, correspondent Natalie Morales invited Katie to New York to be a “producer for a day” at NBC.

“It was a challenge finding a time to go because of taking care of the gardens,” Stacy says.

They finally set off May 30, but the trip was ill-fated.

“We left on Saturday and drove to New York,” Stacy says. “Sunday, Katie woke up sick. She was throwing up and looked awful. Then she had a fever.”

Katie had had episodes when doctors thought she had appendicitis, but this time, her family suspected food poisoning or a bug.

When she still wasn’t better June 1, they headed home.

As they drove down Interstate 95, they were in touch with their physician in Summerville, who suggested they pull over at the nearest emergency room.

Four hours later, Katie was in surgery, having her seeping, gangrenous appendix removed.

She spent the next five days in the hospital with her mother while her dad and brother stayed at the local Ronald McDonald House and explored nearby Washington, D.C.

“Then we had to drive back, which wasn’t easy on her,” Stacy says. “It has taken her a while to bounce back.”

It caused a slow start to her summer and a delay competing for the Pine Forest Swim Team, but despite the physical setback, the awards have kept coming.

She recently was named one of 12 “Build-A-Bear Huggable Heroes” in the United States and Canada, which comes with a $7,500 scholarship for her and $2,500 toward her charity and a trip to the Build-A-Bear Workshop World Bearquarters in St. Louis later this month for a ceremony and to film a documentary.

Last month, she was one of 2,000 kids nationally and 22 in South Carolina to receive $50 gift cards from the Kohl’s Kids Who Care Scholarship Program. Regional winners, who get a $1,000 college scholarship, will be named this month, and 10 national winners will be named later. They receive $5,000 scholarships and $1,000 donations to the nonprofit of their choice.

Also at the end of June, Katie organized a food drive at the Summerville branch of Children’s Orchard, which sells new and used children’s clothing, toys, furniture, equipment, books and accessories. She collected more than 560 pounds of canned goods and fresh fruits and vegetables for local charities.

Katie also recently won a $500 grant from Quaker Oats to help start a garden on a donated plot in Pine Forest.

Winning ways

Lest one think Katie is the only member of the family to win awards, Stacy said that a couple of years ago, she won a contest to have the family’s living room “made over” by Comcast and Bassett furniture.

Last year, John Michael, who saved up his money to buy an old-fashioned popcorn machine that he rents out, won 10 children’s books in a random drawing by local book publisher Sylvan Dell.

All of Katie’s winnings have “made a very nice dent” in her anticipated college costs, Stacy says, but she tries to keep it in perspective.

“Of course we’re very proud of her,” she says. “Katie does all of these wonderful things, but schoolwork is the most important thing. It comes first.”

Katie is successful there, too, earning the highest average in the fourth grade last year at Pinewood, where she’s also a member of the tennis team.