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VISTA prepares Sept. 11 gratitude

BRADENTON — A group of Manatee County volunteers is answering a national call to service Sept. 11 by making a local push to honor first responders.

The Americorps 20/20 VISTA Vision team has begun collecting donations for the county’s first “Gratitude Bags Project,” which it hopes will result in a tangible show of appreciation for local rescue workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers.

The team is collecting small candy, gum, popcorn and other treats as well as personal notes of thanks. The volunteers hope to pass out 1,000 “little bags of cheer” to the county’s first responders Sept. 11, the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Volunteers Joyce Whitworth, Jim Heaton and Bridgette Halliburton and project director Rosie Wiley came up with the idea after visiting the Web site, a national clearinghouse for service ideas.

“I think 9-11 means a lot to everybody,” Whitworth said. “It affected the whole world. It always brings out a lot of emotion. Sometimes our emergency workers don’t get the respect they deserve. We decided to recognize them for all they do for us.”

President Barack Obama created the National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11 when he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in April. The national movement is geared toward shifting the focus of the anniversary from a day of mourning to a day of volunteer service.

“We hope to rekindle the spirit of unity and compassion that followed the terrorist attacks,” said David Paine, founder and president of