At 14, Kati Hilario looked somehow dwarfed amid the oversized stainless steel appliances and cookware in the spacious hotel kitchen she borrowed Tuesday to make Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.
Her bright T-shirt, running shoes and polka-dot apron seemed out of place in the kind of setting where traditional culinary attire would be expected.
But Hilario was on a mission, her outsized ambition to make a dent in world hunger forcing her slightly beyond her comfort zone as a suburban high school student.
Kati had 75 pies to bake, all ordered ahead and expected in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Now in her third year of making the traditional holiday desserts to raise funds for some of the tens of thousands served each year by the Redwood Empire Food Bank, she knows how satisfying it's going to feel to turn over the money she has collected to provide food for those in need.
Heck, she's already mulling ideas for boosting her output and donations next year.
"It's so much fun, because just handing over the check, you can see his face, just so happy," she said of her food bank contact, Billy Bartz. "... and seeing that I'm actually making a change and they can buy so much more food that way."
The Maria Carrillo High School freshman hopes to contribute about $1,100 this year to the regional food bank, though she still has to add up all her expenses and total donation amounts.
In addition to the $15 she receives for each pie, some folks just donate directly to the cause. Last year she gave $945 to the food bank after baking 52 pies. The first year she made 16 pies and donated $362.
"It's so rare that young people feel empowered to step up and make a difference," said Bartz, food drive and events coordinator for the food bank. "And what she's doing is really making a difference.
"Nine-hundred forty-five dollars isn't someone saving their allowance. This is connecting others to the mission, spreading the word that hunger is a reality in our community and together we can do something about it," Bartz said.
Kati said her own awakening came when she was in seventh grade at Rincon Valley Middle School through the confluence of family influences, current events and class curriculum.
Described by her father, contractor Ed Hilario, as a girl "possessing a big, adult view of the world and ... very empathetic, very responsible," she'd been aware of the epic disasters in the world in recent years — Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan — and the widespread devastation they provoked.
But that year, she studied the Black Death and ensuing economic upheaval in history class and was told to connect it to the modern day, reinforcing her understanding of those events.
Closer to home, she was exposed to food insecurity in her own town through the volunteer work of her grandparents, particularly grandfather Frank Gironimi, who over more than a decade has helped with weekly food distribution for the needy through Holy Spirit Catholic Church and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Some of the food comes from the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Gironimi helped connect Kati with Bartz, his contact, after she decided she was ready to help.
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