Lexi Mangione knows she has a nice kit — and plenty of clothes.
However, some, especially foster children, aren’t always afforded that.
“Foster kids, they literally have nothing,” the Wesley Chapel High senior midfielder said. “Or the things they do have, they don’t even have a bag to put those things in — sometimes it’s just a garbage bag.”
Mangione is talking about children in the foster care system. Her family, led by father David and mother Carissa, have been fostering children for more than a year now. Sometimes, the children stay a while, such as the toddler the Mangiones have been caring for, for a year. Other times, it’s a nightly or weekly stay — just a place until the child can get into a more permanent situation.
The family has fostered nearly 30 kids in that short span.
But each time a child walked through the door, Lexi was shocked at the state of their clothes, or lack thereof.
She decided she wanted to something about it.
“It wasn’t something that just pulled at my heartstrings, so I thought I would do some community service hours — no, I really wanted to help out those kids,” she said. “Because now that I’ve seen what’s in the foster system, I want to help and make it better for the kids in the system.”
So, Lexi started hosting clothing drives.
She began in her Wesley Chapel neighborhood, making sure the donated items went to local organizations, such as the nearby Caterpillars to Butterflies. The Dade City-based nonprofit collects clothes for foster children, but also makes sure they have other resources they need to live a better life.
Lexi recently had a clothing drive in her neighborhood geared toward collecting items for teenage girls, such as makeup, hair and skin care products, and sanitary items. Those donations went to Beautiful Beginnings Boutique, out of Bay Hope Church, in Lutz. It provides underprivileged teens with clothing and other items.
Lexi didn’t stop there.
She enlisted the help of her Wildcats teammates to have clothing drives.
The soccer team did it last year and is doing it again this year.
Those items go to Caterpillars to Butterflies, where Lexi volunteers as much as she can by helping with fundraising or keeping their foster closet organized.
“It’s very impressive with what she does — starting up another foster drive with the team,” said Mark Leonard, now in his sixth year as the Wildcats’ coach. “Lexi is an amazing kid from an amazing family. … She’s kind of old school — does it the right way, knows her role, doesn’t make excuses, always asks how can I be a better player and how can I make the team better.
“That’s why I picked her as (team) captain.”
Leonard says Lexi has earned every bit of her captaincy, as well as her role as starting midfielder. Lexi stepped into that position her junior year after hard work. It netted her six goals and six assists, as well as helping the team pull off the upset for a district title over River Ridge last season.
“She’s earned everything she gets, and younger players see that,” Leonard said. “When I look at her, I say, ‘That’s how you want your players, especially your captain, to be.’”
The Wildcats have won four of the last five district championships and return a lot of seniors, including leading scorer Tatum Moore (30 G, 12 A). So, the team wants to “make their senior year worth it,” Lexi said.
“Our season (2-3-1) isn’t starting out the way we like it to, but it kind of plays out that way every season,” Lexi added. “Everyone doubts us, and we come back and win when we need to.”
If anyone is winning, it’s the children the Mangiones, especially Lexi, are helping.
“We’re always just blown away by what she accomplishes with the clothing drives,” Carissa said. “Her and her teammates do a great job of that.
“Plus, she’s great at home, too, with the kids that come in. She’s right there with all the kids and the babies that live with us. She’s so responsible — she’s like a second mom.”
And to Lexi, everyone can use an assist — especially foster children.
“I just thought the kids needed more,” Lexi said. “That’s why I like Caterpillars to Butterflies. They make sure foster kids have all the things they need because most of the time they really don’t have anything at all.”
Caterpillars to Butterflies Charitable Foundation
Caterpillars to Butterflies Charitable Foundation is a Dade City-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides resources to children to help them accomplish goals, explore passions and take part in activities they enjoy. Founded by Tracy Hanson, this organization relies on donations and volunteers who can take meals to foster families, help at fundraising events or work in the foster clothes closet.
The Wesley Chapel High girls soccer team is doing a clothing drive for the organization and looking for children’s PJs, socks, shoes, underwear, diapers and more. To donate to the team’s drive, email .
For more information, visit Caterflies.org.
Published December 07, 2022