MANATEE -- This Black Friday, thousands of shoppers throughout Manatee County will spend their hard-earned dollars on discount items for Christmas gifts or to shorten an overdue wish list.
Volunteers at the Sarasota-Manatee Association for Riding Therapy are hoping those shoppers will have enough leftover cash, and room in their trunks, to attend their annual Black Friday second-hand tack sale, where hundreds of riding supplies and Christmas or
naments will be available for purchase to fund a worthy cause.
The sale will take place 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at Tractor Supply, 4404 State Road 64 E., Bradenton. The profits will go toward the association's scholarship fund, which pays for riding sessions for people with special needs.
For 25 years, SMART's therapeutic riding program has provided special needs persons an opportunity to develop physically, cognitively and emotionally. The therapy sessions have been proven to increase body awareness, flexibility and coordination, allow riders to concentrate more fully and for longer periods of time and increases self-confidence and self-respect.
"The fundraisers we do throughout the year are really important because they fund our projects," said Gail Clifton, volunteer executive director. "We have a really big mortgage."
The program's therapy season typically begins in September and continue through June. Riders are given one lesson per week. Last year, the sale raised roughly $900, enough to pay for one rider's therapy season. In 2011, the program helped about 300 special needs people in the community, of which 66 percent depended on scholarships.
"We don't turn anyone away, that's why we need this," said Diana Staab, a volunteer at SMART. "And they shouldn't be turned away."
"We work really, really hard to support the children and adults in our program," Clifton said.
Many nonprofits are struggling during the still-recovering economy, as donors are hesitant to hand over cash.
"I think the economy has hit everybody hard," Staab said. "People with money are careful because you never know what's going to happen.
Still, volunteers are optimistic about people opening their pocket books to support the program.
"We're hoping for over $1,000 this year," Clifton said.
Saddles, both Western and English, bits, bridles, western clothing and other items are donated to SMART each year. The organization decided to sell the surplus items, at reasonable prices, for a profit. Staab said some of the items will be sold as low as 60 percent of the market price. Some of the Christmas ornaments include horse-like decorations made from wine corks and sports-themed ornaments.
The tack sale was started by longtime SMART volunteer Erin Papke six years ago while she was still in high school. The first sale took place outside Panther Ridge, her housing community, with a few signs and friends. The purchases can be used as a tax write off as well, Papke said.
"It's incredibly important because this is what keeps the program going," Papke said. "If not for donations, SMART wouldn't exist."
"This is a way to make sure no one is turned away," Staab said.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams