WINDER - Marcia Pittard, formerly a parapro at Barrow County's Performance Learning Center, loved animals. Friends and family said that for years she took in strays and fed the birds.
"That's what I remember most about her interview, was her talking about her cats," said Principal Molly Stiltner.
Pittard worked with special education students. Her warm, motherly personality sparkled when with her charges, Stiltner said.
Pittard stopped by the learning center on a warm afternoon in June to say goodbye to her coworkers for the summer. A few minutes later, while standing at her desk in the classroom she loved, Pittard collapsed due to a brain aneurysm and died the next day.
"We have a satellite office of the Sheriff's Department on site and we had trained EMTs just around the corner," Stiltner said. "That's comforting, to know there was nothing more that could have been done for her."
This year, instead of exchanging knickknacks, ties and fruitcakes as Christmas gifts, the PLC staff will donate to Pup and Cat Co., a no-kill animal rescue organization in Winder, to honor Pittard's memory.
The school has so far raised $200 through private donations from its 120 student population and 20 teachers, clerical workers and para pros.
A doggie beauty contest on site is bringing in 25 cents per vote. Teachers made posters of their dogs and hung them in the school's hallway for viewing and voting.
The PLC's Christmas donation program is in its fourth year and has raised as much as $500 for churches, needy families and other worthy causes at Christmastime.
Anyone wishing to donate cash, pet toys or cat litter can drop by the school before Wednesday or mail in a donation to Performance Learning Center, 905 Mulberry Rd., Winder, GA 30680.
"The public can vote, too," Stiltner said. "This is so perfect for Marcia. She would have been so enthusiastic and so into this project."