Bradenton soup kitchen receives added act of kindness for kids, adults

vmannix@bradenton.comDecember 25, 2013 

BRADENTON

Donna Kearney held out a candy cane to the old man as he left Our Daily Bread late Tuesday morning.

"Merry Christmas," said the retired teacher.

The man stopped, appearing stunned at first, then he smiled.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," he said, taking the candy cane.

It was an act of kindness repeated over and over on Christmas Eve at the soup kitchen on 17th Avenue West opposite McKechnie Field.

While Kearney handed out candy canes, her friend, Amy Fritzmeier, gave out toys to children accompanying their moms or dads for the mid-day meal for 300-plus people.

The folding table before the two women was piled with donated toys.

Among them were: plastic baseball bats, plastic golf clubs and balls, plastic dragons, stuffed animals and religious books in pretty wrapping.

"Merry Christmas," Fritzmeier told one shy little girl who skipped out the door with her gifts.

A square meal was all the children were probably looking forward to,

whether their families were homeless or just hard up.

But getting a couple of toys, too?

"The look on their face is just like any other child in this country at Christmas," Kearney said. "Surprise, wonder, hopeful."

That went for Hector Velasco, as well, holding his 2-year-old daughter, Natalie, and her gifts.

"I appreciate it very much," he said.

It was all in the spirit of Christmas for Fritzmeier, a deacon and pre-school teacher at Palma Sola Presbyterian Church, which sends volunteers to Our Daily Bread once a month.

"It makes us happy to come here, make the children feel loved," she said. "Show them there is good in the world. It's more important than anything to show we care."

Thankfully, there were enough toys to go around, too.

"Last year a lady came in late with two preschoolers and I didn't have anything to give them," Fritzmeier said. "I didn't want that to happen again."

Sadly, some older folks asked for toys, but not for themselves.

"They want to know if they can take a present for a grandchild," Kearney said. "When you think of people as homeless, you don't think of them as grandparents."

Terence Mays is homeless, but was happy to receive a candy cane.

"I'm feeling the love, the Christmas spirit, the joy," the 24-year-old said. "I'm trying and this place helps me everyday."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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