Above photo: Lightning player Ryan Callahan and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik present Riverview High School senior Karisya Moran-Adames with a $50,000 check as a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero.

This month a group of local elementary students will have one less worry thanks to Riverview High School senior Karisya Moran-Adames.

Adames is starting Project Smile, a weekend backpack program, at Mintz Elementary School in Brandon which will provide food for qualifying students to take home and eat when they can not receive free meals from school. She is able to do this thanks to funds won when she was named a Community Hero of Tomorrow through the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Heroes program.

As a Community Hero of Tomorrow, Adames was honored at one of the team’s December hockey games and received $50,000, $25,000 of which she will use to start the program at Mintz Elementary. The remainder will go to a scholarship for her education.

Adames had the idea for her project after working with the Kiwanis Club and Feeding Tampa Bay at a Project Smile group at Gibsonton Elementary. Both Gibsonton and Mintz elementaries are Renaissance schools where more than 95 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch.

Project Smile started as a Kiwanis service initiative six years ago when Mike Daigle and his wife, a retired school teacher, realized that the children who receive free and reduced meals at schools were going home for the weekend with no food that they could count on.

“Hunger is a huge problem in our area,” said Daigle. “It is only by coming together that we can even start to put a dent in it.”

The program at Gibsonton Elementary gives out pre-packaged food and bread to approximately 200 students, known as Smile Club members, a week thanks to help from Feeding Tampa Bay, the Kiwanis and grants. With the $25,000 from the Lightning, Adames plans to start the program at Mintz by helping 30 students this month, but hopes to grow the program over time.

“Karisya is very passionate about giving back,” said Dangle, who works closely with Adames in her role as President of the Riverview High School Key Club.

The Lightning Community Hero Program began in 2011 and Adames was the 248th person honored through the program. At the end of 2017, the program had granted $14.3 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Tampa Bay Area. Students between 13 and 25 years old who are currently enrolled in a middle or high school, community college, college or university are eligible for the Community Hero of Tomorrow scholarship and community service initiative grant.
Heroes are selected based on their strength of past volunteerism and the degree to which the service activity has benefitted people in the area, among other criteria.

For more information on Project Smile, visit www.brandonkiwanis.com. To learn more about the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Heroes Program, visit www.nhl.com/lightning/community/community-heroes or call 301-6500.

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Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.