MANATEE -- For the past several years around the holiday season, Manatee County government has given back to the community it serves every day through the Family Partnership Center's Adopt-A-Family for Christmas program. Adopting 14 families through this year's program, the county is helping to make sure every Manatee County family has gifts and other items off their wish list.
"The county has been very generous," Family Partnership Center Executive Director Katrina Bellemare said. "They provide a really good holiday for these kids. It's just really neat to see the families' faces when they see that all this is for them. ...They do a wonderful job and really go overboard which is great."
With 46 total families adopted this year, there will be 265 individuals receiving gifts, with more than 2,000 gifts donated this year, Bellemare said. In addition to the county, the Manatee County School District adopted eight families and local churches and businesses also adopted families. Last year, they had 25 families adopted through the program.
While multiple county departments participate in the program, the public works department over the years has been one of the most generous groups, according to Nick Azzara, the county's spokesman.
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"It's just been a tremendous success," Azzara said of the county's participation in the program.
This year, the public works department adopted three families and the department's employees donated more than 400 gifts as well as $745 in gift cards to the Adopt-A-Family for Christmas program.
But Ron Schulhofer, the county's public works department director, said they don't do it for the recognition.
"We do it from the heart," he said. "We do it just because it's the right thing to do."
Schulhofer said the entire department "contributes back to the community that we serve."
"I am blessed to be part of the best team on the planet, public works," he said. "It reinforces how strong and how wonderful the folks I work with every day are and how they feel about the community we serve."
The families receiving the gifts fall way below the poverty line, Bellemare said.
"They won't have gifts otherwise," she said.
Sometimes families will request food rather than toys, but when that happens, the family will typically also receive gifts, said Robin Rowland, who coordinates the program with Family Partnership Center.
"I think that strikes a donor as they are a pretty needy family," she said. "We have families this year that they really just need food. ... We are meeting much more grassroots need than Santa Claus needs."
The program has grown a lot since it started at least 15 years ago, Bellemare said, adding that it started with mostly just individuals adopting families.
"We are able to give much more to families that really need it," she said.
Since the center works with the families, they are able to really know what their needs are, Bellemare said.
"It's something that the family really needs," she said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.