MANATEE — Carolyn Smith meant to volunteer at Adopt-A-Family of Manatee County for years.
So did Kevin Rothfuss.
They just had no time.
“I was always working,” said Smith, 50.
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“Been working for 15 years,” said Rothfuss, 33.
Then they got laid off.
Smith in September. Rothfuss last December.
Yet they put their job searches on hold for Adopt-A-Family, 7445 15th St. E., the volunteer nonprofit that helps needy families make Christmas brighter for their children.
Smith and Rothfuss are only at Adopt’s warehouse a few weeks, but it has been rewarding.
“I’m unemployed and I need a job, but I’m here because I want to help other people trying to do something for their children,” said Smith, who interviews applicants. “If this is how I can do it, then I will because it’s tough out there.
“Seeing what’s going on, hearing their stories, I go home every day and thank God. My husband took a huge pay cut, but I’m still in my home. I count my blessings.”
More than 1,100 people registered at Adopt through Monday, and Smith empathized with several.
Tammy Joyas, 32, a mother of three and jobless like her husband, felt the connection.
“It was easier to relate, to discuss problems with someone who is not so far off from where we are,” she said. “We’re all struggling.”
Olga Guillen, 37, acknowledged a bond, too.
“She sat there, heard my story and really listened,” said the mother of four whose husband is being deported. “She’s an angel from heaven.”
That’s because Smith, despite being jobless, and some girlfriends are “adopting” Guillen’s family.
“You could tell she would never ask for anything,” Smith said. “She touched me, so I wanted to make sure I could do well for them.”
Rothfuss helps out in his own way at Adopt, putting batteries in kids’ toys and moving heavy boxes.
“You don’t want me wrapping,” joked the auto mechanic/salesman. “It’d take me a whole roll to get one toy wrapped.”
Still, “Doing this makes me feel really cool,” he said.
Which Elaine Henneberry can understand.
“It’s a new experience and it’s important everyone contributes,” said the Adopt president. “People here know what need is, know the desperation that can go with it.”
For more information, call Adopt-A-Family at 748-4424.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a phone number for verification.