Like most teenagers, Isabella Petros-Weber of Petaluma feels there is little her cohorts can do to make a difference in the world.

"We're children," she said. "Not many people listen to children."

That's why the story of a homeless Santa Rosa man's unusual charity resonated with Petros-Weber, 14, and her eighth-grade classmates at St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School.

The 36 students did more than write essays assigned by their teacher, Nadine DeVost, after reading a Press Democrat story about the life and death of Kevin Christopher Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, 57, was struck and killed by a pickup truck on Highway 101 near downtown Santa Rosa on Dec. 17. The homeless man, who lived on about $600 a month in disability payments, was giving $56 a month to an international charity to feed an unrelated pair of 9-year-old children in the west African nation of Senegal.

"I thought that was really touching," Petros-Weber said.

Her class started tossing small sums into a donation box, which soon held about $75. DeVost added enough to make a $112 contribution to an account set up by Fitzgerald's family to keep the payments going.

"The kids were very moved," DeVost said.

So was Fitzgerald's sister, Kathleen Fitzgerald-Orr of Santa Rosa, as total donations to the account exceeded $1,800 in two months.

After spending $672 in February to continue the payments to ChildFund International for a year, the account now has a balance of $1,160, nearly enough for two more years of support.

"I feel very blessed that people have responded to my brother the way they have," Fitzgerald-Orr said. "&‘I am amazed' is putting it lightly."

Her brother, once a bright parochial school student in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, suffered a psychotic break in his early teens and never recovered his mental health.

For the past 25 years, Fitzgerald had lived mostly on the streets of Santa Rosa, going in and out of rehab programs, group homes and shelters.

No one knows how or why Fitzgerald, who was drug-dependant, walked into the path of the pickup truck at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, becoming the fifth homeless pedestrian fatally struck by a vehicle last year in Santa Rosa.

Fitzgerald-Orr said the account at Redwood Credit Union will remain open indefinitely.

The donation from the St. Vincent students was "pretty amazing," she said.

DeVost, their teacher, said it reflects the purpose of her awareness project, which is "to make children aware of the world beyond self."

Petros-Weber said the generosity of one homeless man was their inspiration.

"If everyone left a legacy like Kevin Fitzgerald there would be no children going hungry," she said.