While the rest of the county’s students snoozed over the alarm on the first day of winter break Friday, three Electa Arcotte Lee Middle School teens were just getting started with their service project.
Yazmin Ramirez, Janeth Davila and Natalie Robaina are in Lee Middle’s newly formed Future Business Leaders of America chapter, led by teacher Richard Daenell. For a community service project, they decided to gather and disperse “blessing baskets,” which are wrapped presents of blankets, socks, toothpaste, soap and canned food for in-need individuals and families.
“It ended up way bigger than any of us imagined it would be,” Daenell said.
The students figured they would need $920 to make 50 boxes. They went Christmas caroling, got donations and discounts from stores and had a “Purple Rush” fundraiser at the school in which students paid a dollar to switch out their uniforms to wear something purple or white with a purple ribbon.
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“We raised less than that and were still able to accomplish it,” Ramirez said.
Presents were piled in the empty halls of the middle school and loaded into a caravan. The first stop on their list was a vacant lot behind K&S Discount Food & Beverages on 301 Boulevard East, where underneath the cover of tall oak trees is a homeless camp with sporadic chairs and living room sets.
A few homeless people walked up with smiles to the girls bearing presents, including a man named Jayson.
He said he has been homeless for six months after being in prison for 10 years and not being able to successfully immerse himself back into society.
“I don’t see it forever,” he said. “We look out for each other.”
Larry and Dawn were homeless in Manatee County for 10 years until they were able to just recently get housing. Now, they try to help others who are going through homelessness.
“It’s awesome,” Larry said of the girls’ project. “There ain’t nobody out here around that does this for people.”