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Back-To-School Generosity: Pre-Teen Helps Those In Need
Michelle Rodriguez, 11, of Oakdale, found a way to give back to the community by spending $600 of her own money to buy back-to-school supplies for 48 community members in need. The young philanthropist set up her distribution spot in the Wells Fargo parking lot on Monday, Aug. 2. KIM VAN METER/THE LEADER

Cloverland Elementary student Michelle Rodriguez, 11, isn’t your typical kid. Not only is she an entrepreneur with her own business, she’s brimming with compassion for those less fortunate.

When Rodriguez and her family moved to Oakdale to be with family after the loss of their restaurant business due to COVID-19 closures, depression hit Rodriguez hard until her mother, Carime Antunez, suggested a fun activity to help pass the time.

The idea became the foundation of her cocoa-bomb business, Fancy Sweets, which not only galvanized Rodriguez’ spirit but also inspired her to give back to the community by way of school supplies.

“I realized how many kids are out there that needed school supplies that can’t afford it,” the young Rodriguez explained. “Some parents don’t have the time or are working two jobs, and still can’t afford, because I know some people are single mothers, and single fathers and they can’t afford to buy school supplies that they need or things they want in general.”

Rodriguez spent more than $600 of her Fancy Sweets money to purchase 48 backpacks to fill with much-needed school supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, pens, index cards, highlighters, erasers, and so much more. She used social media to reach out to the community and registered interested people for a scheduled distribution on Monday, Aug. 2 in the Wells Fargo parking lot in Oakdale.

“I feel very good, because I know some parents are coming, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much.’ It just makes me happy to know that they’re getting school supplies and making their child happy with the stuff they’re getting,” Rodriguez said with a smile.

One such person, Tammy Salvi, a grandparent helping with her grandchildren, was floored by the young girl’s generosity and her initiative, saying, “I think this is amazing. I’m going to get all choked up that they even had in their minds or their heart to want to help children, and their parents that maybe can’t make all the ends meet.”

To Rodriguez, Salvi shared a heartfelt sentiment, saying, “God has given you an awesome calling. Thank you so much.”

More people showed up, accepting the donation, each with murmured praise and gratitude for Rodriguez’ help.

For Rodriguez’ mom, Antunez, pride in her daughter’s accomplishment as well as her generous heart was evident in her smile as she watched the 11-year-old handle the operation with ease and efficient organization.

But according to Antunez, her daughter’s compassionate streak runs deep and always has. She’d much rather buy something for someone in need, rather than get something she personally doesn’t need, said Antunez.

“Every time we go to a store, I tell her to get something and she says, ‘Well, I don’t really need anything, we have everything,’ and I’m always like, okay, are you sure? I just love how she is. She’s just perfect. My other kids are totally different, the opposite, so I’m just like grateful to have one like her.”

And for many local kids heading back to school with a backpack full of supplies, they are grateful as well.