Loughman business owner Rocky Maharaj, standing next to fellow business owner Sonny Buoncervello, talks about his passion for feeding local school kids. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
LOUGHMAN – Rocky Maharaj can remember being so poor that he couldn’t afford to eat. In fact, there were times when he was starving and had to resort to extreme measures to find food.
“I have eaten out of people’s trash,” he said, “so I know what it’s like to go hungry.”
Those days are long gone. Today, Maharaj is a successful business owner who operates N&A Commercial Inc., a commercial carpet cleaning business in Loughman. An immigrant who found success in the United States, Maharaj said he’s a shining example of the great opportunities available here to anyone ready to work hard and apply themselves.
“I love my country because I believe this is where I’m going to be when I die,” he said.
But he’s not complacent about the problem that hunger presents. In fact, while visiting one of the local schools, Loughman Oak Elementary, he discovered a serious dilemma there: far too many students who were not getting enough to eat every day.
“Eighty-three percent of our students are on the free or reduced lunch program,” said Wanda Aponte, the school’s assistant principal.
This week, the school presented Maharaj with a plaque for his commitment and dedication to organizing food drives to help the elementary school bring more items to its food pantry. Maharaj has organized other businesses to help on these food drives.
Maharaj said he was saddened to see so many children going hungry, and knew something needed to be done.
“When I saw what the kids were going through, I went nuts,” he said. “But we need to do so much more.”
Aponte, who presented him with the plaque, said he and all the other business owners who have responded to this call have been an enormous help, letting the students not only get meals for breakfast and lunch, but often to take food home with them on weekends.
“You have been a blessing to our school,” she said. “I truly believe that when you feed the body, you help feed the mind. This is the beauty of everything you guys are doing.”
Loughman Oaks Elementary has also been getting assistance from the Green Bag Project and the Davenport/Four Corners Kiwanis. Green Bag Project, based at ChampionsGate, collects and distributes food to needy families.
It started with volunteers dropping off green shopping bags in local neighborhoods, with notes attached asking people to put any spare food they could offer inside it. The bags were collected, and the food was given to local food pantries.
The project has expanded since then, as business and civic groups have lent their support.
“The Polk County School Board has been made aware of what they have been doing,” Aponte said. “We’re hoping for continued support. We truly support the Green Bag Project.”
Maharaj said he plans to keep raising funds to help the school meet the hunger needs of its students. School goes back into session on Monday, Aug. 22.
Anyone who wants to help can contact Maharaj at 407-709-8541 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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