MANATEE -- A week before Christmas, Manatee County residents can ride through west Bradenton as part of the Ted Nowosad Tour of Lights.
In its 14th year, the public will board Manatee County Area Transit and Manatee County School District buses at State College of Flori
da Manatee-Sarasota for a free 90-minute ride through local neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 18-19.
For the past five years, Fil Rivera, MCAT supervisor, has driven buses as part of the annual tradition where up to 2,000 people attend. This year, Rivera is organizing the event for the county.
"We are doing this to try to give back to the community," Rivera said. "It's a nice thing to do when you get a group of people together to see the lights around Manatee County."
Riders should arrive to SCF building 29, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton, by 6:30 p.m. Limited seating will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Riders should bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to the Food Bank of Manatee, or an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots as admission on the Tour of Lights ride.
Cindy Sloan, food bank director, said the Tour of Lights brings in a lot of food for the organization. This year, the food will be extra helpful as the annual Stuff the Bus event was moved to February from its usual November date, Sloan said.
"We've been scrambling trying to keep up with the demand," she said. "We have a lot of food that we are still moving. It's not enough to meet the needs at the pantry level. If MCAT does it for us, they have brought in a lot of food in the past and it always helps."
Last year, Tour of Lights riders donated between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of food for the Food Bank of Manatee, Sloan said.
"There's nothing here at the food bank that we can't distribute out to the community," she said. "Everything is appreciated."
All toy donations go to children in Manatee County, said Mike Monteleone, state liaison with Toys for Tots.
Last year, the organization received 49,000 toys at county collection drives and had just enough, he added.
"We try to get at least two to three toys per child in the county," he said. "Every child deserves a Christmas. Each event has its own significance of making our goals possible."
Donations for children between 11 and 16 years old are sometimes limited, Monteleone said.
"They are still kids, too, and they still need Christmas," he said. "We are grateful for whatever we get."
Manatee County is "really proud to be doing this for our community," Rivera said. "On Christmas, at least on the side of transit, we can make our community to enjoy lights out there for everybody."
Information: Call Ted Nowosad Tour of Lights at 941-747-8621.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.