Nineteen-month-old Jessi Fields, of Lampasas, had her cheering section at the Shilo Inn on Saturday. Both sets of grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, and her mom and dad were present in their matching T-shirts in hopes she would take home a sparkling tiara, her mother, Tara Fields, said.
“I hope she doesn’t freak out or start crying,” Fields said prior to the competition. “If she wins, it will be amazing. If not, she is still our princess.”
Jessi did capture the “Baby Miss” title at the Central Texas Miss Heart of Freedom Pageant in Killeen. But she was not the only one who walked away a winner.
Operation Phantom Support also benefitted from the more than 500 pounds of nonperishable food items raised by the event.
The Heart of Freedom Pageant is the local preliminary to the Texas Miss Heart of the USA Pageant.
The national pageant system, Miss Heart of the USA, was started in 2011 to benefit an Alabama women’s shelter that was low on supplies.
Contestants are required to turn in nonperishable food items as part of their entry fee.
The contestant who turns in the most items wins a special crown.
Pageants are now held in 20 states including Texas, said director Angela Nelson.
“The whole purpose of the Miss Heart of the USA Pageant is to feed hungry people. We did that today with 4,336 items donated for Operation Phantom Support,” Nelson said. “They broke a sweat loading it all in the truck.”
John Valentine, founder and CEO of Operation Phantom Support, said the amount of items donated exceeded his expectations.
“We just purchased a 6-foot-by-6-foot freezer and expanded our unit. So, we have nearly tripled our cold storage capacity for the next six months,” Valentine said. “With all of these nonperishable items, our Thursday food distribution will be extended to more families.”
He said Operation Phantom Support currently is serving 800 military individuals weekly resulting in 3,200 military families being fed.
For Melinda Hartsfield, a military veteran with 11 years of service, she entered the pageant because it supported a military charity.
“My three daughters are already queens in this system and they encouraged me to do it. I kept it a secret a long time,” she said nervously.
Hartsfield did capture the crown in the Ms. category. In total, her family has donated more than 5,000 canned goods to the pageant system since becoming involved a few years ago.
To date, pageant contestants have donated more than 10 million nonperishable food items to nonprofit organizations, such as food banks, rescue missions and senior programs, Nelson said.