MANATEE — The demand was obvious as hundreds of residents crowded around a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office truck accepting free turkeys, emptying a truckload of frozen birds in minutes.
An anonymous donor gave the Manatee County YMCA 300 turkeys to give out in Pride Park off Ninth Street East, an area long troubled by gangs and drugs, but also the focal point in recent years for progress in the fight against gang violence.
“It has taken us three years, but we are gaining traction here,” said YMCA representative Pastor Jerry Parrish. “The people in this neighborhood are starting to believe that we are there for them every day, not just on Thanksgiving.”
But with Thanksgiving on Thursday, the donations brought joy to many families. Oneco resident Angela Saffore thanked Parrish for her turkey.
Saffore said she lives with her daughter and two grandchildren, as well as her brother-in-law who has a life-threatening heart condition.
“This means we can have a nice Thanksgiving,” she said. “It means a lot for me and my family, and the community for them to do something like this.”
It was the second year in a row the YMCA gave out turkeys. In addition to those distributed in about 20 minutes at Pride Park, more than a hundred were loaded into vehicles for transport by area churches to needy families without transportation.
“We have a lot of people with no way to get here, so we are in the delivery business today,” said The Source church member Brian Johnson with a grin. “It means hope for a lot of people, showing them the community cares.”
Law enforcement also participated in the effort to give back and build relationships through positive interaction, sheriff deputy Lt. Ricky Wells said.
“It shows we are not just here arresting people, but that we also want to be a part of a working partnership with the community here,” Wells said.
Parrish said law enforcement’s presence at such an event only builds trust.
“It is huge for them to be here,” he said. “The community sees this and buys into the fact that they are their friends, not their enemy.”