BRADENTON -- The ladies from Faith United Church of Christ walked into the large room Friday morning, picked out an empty spot at one of the white tables and proceeded to place their blue bucket on top. Within minutes, bottles of shampoos, toothbrushes, soap and other toiletries neatly lined the table.
Midge Barnes and Joan Sheehan were two of dozens of members from Church Women United of Manatee County who covered tables with donations for migrant families, continuing a "Migrant Tea" tradition that's been honored around Thanksgiving for more than 30 years.
"This is our effort to reach out to the immigrant community," said Sandra Holley, president of Church Women United of Manatee County. "This is just one more way that we reach out to our community and show some compassion to families."
Church Women United consists of members from more than 40 churches of different denominations. They gather the Friday before Thanksgiving to celebrate "Migrant Tea," a day when they present handmade and store-
bought clothes and family essentials.
The women work with Manatee County School Board's migrant program, which distributes the items to migrant families as they come from other states into Manatee County, Holley said.
"This has a very positive impact because as they are moving from place to place, it's not easy for families to bring goods with them," said Kate Hoffman, coordinator of ESOL, Migrant and Immigrant Academic Services for the Manatee County School Board.
Piles of handmade quilts and colorful sweaters, diapers and teddy bears eventually claimed spots on the tables at a hall room in Manatee United Methodist Church in Bradenton.
Two high school seniors, Luis Aguilar, from Manatee High School, and Oscar Gallegos from Bayshore High School, spoke to the dozens of attendees about their experiences participating in a high school leadership program in Washington, D.C.
And more than a dozen preschoolers evoked smiles and admiration from the ladies as they sang songs about the days of the week and months of the year.
Before convening for refreshments, the women and guests also sang a hymn about acceptance and said a prayer for immigrants.
"Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us," they sang.
Church Women United believe hundreds of families will benefit from Friday's Migrant Tea donations.
"What we get is the joy of being able to help these people who come very often with nothing except the clothes that they are wearing," said Peggy Nash, a member of Church Women United. "The different churches provide all kinds of necessities and gifts. ... There's joy in giving. They're so appreciative."