Leanne Carrasco wanted to help women and children in need.
She never imagined that doing so would make her famous.
As reported by The Leader in May, the Waltrip High School student decided at the beginning of the school year to forego a graduation party and host a pizza party for homeless Houstonians served by the Women & Family Development Center at Star of Hope’s Cornerstone Community. So on June 2, the day after receiving her diploma, Carrasco and about 20 of her friends and family members brought pizzas and personal hygiene bags to the shelter located at 2725 Reed Rd.
Two local TV stations covered the event, and word of it then spread like wildfire. More than 30 news outlets across the state, country and world told Carrasco’s story during the following week.
Her name and face appeared in France, India and the United Kingdom as well as on CNN and Fox News. People Magazine and the New York Post picked up the story. Carrasco also was interviewed on “Strahan and Sara,” the nationally televised talk show that concludes “Good Morning America” on ABC.
“It was cool,” Carrasco said.
The experience earned Carrasco a new nickname: Pizza Girl. It also made her a hero in the eyes of those served by the Star of Hope Mission, which serves about 1,400 homeless people per day at its two Houston facilities.
Carrasco and her entourage, which included fellow Waltrip students as well as her parents, Alfred and Kylie Carrasco, delivered 95 pizzas and 400 hygiene bags to the shelter for women and families. The bags included donated items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and deodorant, which Leanne Carrasco and her friends had been collecting since February.
The group toured the facility before serving pizza, corn on the cob and salad to about 200 shelter residents. Upon learning that Carrasco was behind the feast, Star of Hope public relations director Scott Arthur said one group of women gave her a standing ovation and formed a line to personally greet and hug Carrasco and her relatives.
“It means a lot to them,” Arthur said.
The experience meant just as much to Carrasco, who said she wanted the women to know they were cared for and was gratified by their appreciation. She said the reason she wanted to serve the homeless instead of celebrating her high school graduation was because she viewed having a party as fleeting and wasteful from a financial standpoint.
Carrasco still received gifts to commemorate the occasion – a charm bracelet from her grandmother was her favorite – but the gift of giving might have trumped the others. She enjoyed the experience so much that she plans to do something similar once she graduates from college.
Carrasco, a standout catcher for the Waltrip softball team, said she will attend Briar Cliff University in Iowa on a softball scholarship. Her reputation might proceed her to the Midwest, where the student newspaper at Iowa State University was among the news outlets to tell her story.
Arthur, who arranged for the local TV stations to cover the event, said a “perfect storm” of circumstances led to the story spreading beyond Houston. It was timely because it was tied to graduation, he said, and it also was a feel-good story in a news cycle often filled with bad news.
“It’s just amazing,” Arthur said. “People needed that news at the right time, and she was there. Her heart was in the right place.”