MANATEE -- While cleaning up their prime rib from Christmas dinner two years ago, Betsy and Tim Plante became inspired to help the homeless for the holidays.
After saying goodbye to guests and watching food left on plates going down the drain, the couple decided they would dedicate Christmas from then on to cooking for the homeless.
"We are just some people that care about other people," Betsy Plante said. "My heart has always been with the homeless, and it breaks my heart to see more and more young people homeless, and a lot of women. It can happen to anybody."
This is the second consecutive year Plante is providing a picnic lunch for the homeless at the 1 p.m. "Christmas Birthday Bash" in the One Stop Center parking lot, 701 17th Ave. W.
"Christmas has become so commercial, but God teaches us that we need to take care of the needy," Plante said.
Plante relocated to Bradenton six years ago and doesn't have family close by aside from her husband. She has taken to celebrating holidays with people who are alone.
Previously, Plante offered a place at the table for people with nowhere else to celebrate, but her focus has turned to providing a holiday party at the One Stop Center across the street from McKechnie Field.
"I acquire family," Plante said. "I feel like I am with family. I feel like the homeless are my family."
Instead of traditional holiday fare, Plante serves hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and barbecue.
Last year, she fed 145 people and ran out of food within the first hour and a half. This year, about 25 volunteers, including a singing and dancing Santa Claus, a vocalist and a minister from Answered Prayers Cross, will join Plante. They expect to feed at least 200.
Plante's friend, Susan Brady, said she admires how Plante dedicates her Christmas to helping others.
"She does a lot of volunteer work on her own," Brady said. "She goes unrecog
nized for some of the work she does, and that's just her way of doing it. She buys the food with her own money and will be there until she runs out."
Plante said she is grateful for donors helping expand the Christmas bash. First Baptist Church in Palmetto is donating 150 chairs, and the Elks Lodge is offering tables and a grill. Clancy's is also donating a grill, purchased last year specifically for Plante's Christmas cookout. The grill is designated for them every year, and the owner of Cody's Roadhouse lets her use the restaurant cooler to store food the day before.
Plante said she hopes to continue growing the tradition each year.
Before putting the final touches on the Christmas meal, Plante also organized a group of friends who donated money, bought gifts, wrapped and delivered one outfit, pajamas, socks and underwear to families at the Salvation Army.
"I just want people to know that homelessness is not always a choice," Plante said. "They deserve to be treated with respect, not shunned and laughed at."
Erica Earl, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.