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Teen beauty pageant winner inspires other contestants to donate 400 toys

Special photo Conyers resident and Miss Georgia Teen America 2011 Anna Barnes helps 3-year-old Cadence Banks, also of Conyers, around the Olde Town Conyers ice skating rink at an event Barnes organized to benefit Toys for Tots
 Special Photo Beauty pageant contestants donated more than 400 toys at the "Queen for a Claus" event 

Special photo Conyers resident and Miss Georgia Teen America 2011 Anna Barnes helps 3-year-old Cadence Banks, also of Conyers, around the Olde Town Conyers ice skating rink at an event Barnes organized to benefit Toys for Tots Special Photo Beauty pageant contestants donated more than 400 toys at the "Queen for a Claus" event 

The Toys for Tots program gained a few hundred more toys last weekend thanks to the efforts of one Conyers teen. Anna Barnes, who holds the title of Miss Georgia Teen America, organized what she called "A Queen for Claus" event which drew about 40 other pageant contestants and their families bearing over 400 toys to Have An Ice Day ice skating rink in Conyers last Sunday.

"I was very surprised and overwhelmed at the support I got," said Barnes, who plans to donate the toys to both Toys for Tots and needy families referred by the Department of Family and Children Services.

Barnes said she came up with idea after mentoring with two young girls in foster care and learning that they mostly got "leftovers" at the holidays.

"We need to let them know that there are those of us who care about them," said Barnes.

Barnes spread the word about the event through Facebook to the pageant community. Girls who attended the event and brought toys earned community service hours, sometimes required by pageants.

The volunteer hours also count toward earning a Presidential Service Award, an award provided to volunteers by the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, established in 2003.

A Presidential Service Award is an achievement helpful in gaining entrance to college, said Julie Barnes, Anna's mother.

"I'm proud of my daughter," said Julie Barnes. "A lot of these little girls start early to get their Presidential Awards."

Anna Barnes is scheduled to receive the Gold Level Presidential Volunteer Service Award in February. She's already earned the Bronze and Silver Levels; the Gold Level required her to invest 100 hours of service.

Barnes volunteers annually for the Georgia State Special Olympics Winter and Summer Games, escorting athletes across the stage to receive their medals.

Barnes also raised over $35,000 for Relay for Life, with help from her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer last year.

"That became a really important priority in my life," said Barnes of Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society.

Barnes joined the beauty pageant circuit at just 3 months old, and has competed in pageants throughout the United States.

Most recently, she earned the titles of Miss Georgia High School 2010 and Miss Georgia Teen America 2011, and took first-runner up in the Miss Teen America 2011 contest.

Barnes said in her younger years she participated in pageants every weekend, namely for practice purposes, to reach her current level of competition.

"Sometimes it does get tiring, but I really like that you gain a ton of self confidence," said Barnes.

Barnes said she enjoys the social networking at the pageants. Competition is secondary to the friendships, she said.

"We're all best friends," she said of her fellow contestants.

The 16-year-old Heritage High School junior, who envisions becoming a special education teacher some day, said she'd like to make the Toys for Tots skating event an annual tradition.

"I was having a blast. All the older girls paired up with the younger girls and helped them skate," she said. "I would like to have this event for many years to come and make it even more successful."