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Salvation Army provides more than a meal to Manatee's needy


Richard Barker and Carolyn Drawdy may be homeless, but they were able to set aside their troubles on Thanksgiving.

“Today’s a day we don’t have to worry about eating,” said Drawdy, 29, who mentioned that she has been sleeping on the streets in Palmetto. She and Barker were sitting outside the Bradenton Salvation Army facility, where they had enjoyed a hot meal Thursday along with more than 300 other diners.

The respite was especially welcome because of how graciously they were treated, the couple said.

“The people who served it were very polite,” said Barker, 42, who said he was also homeless. He added with astonishment that kindness and consideration seemed to permeate the whole operation.

At 6 a.m., kitchen manager Jim McKee had arrived to prepare 165 turkeys and 250 pounds of potatoes, along with cases of green beans and huge quantities of stuffing, gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, pies, coffee and tea, he said.

Generous donors contributed the food, said Maj. Bob Parker, area coordinator/corps officer.

“It’s amazing how many folks will give you a turkey or canned goods to help with this effort,” said Parker.

Although the staff had prepared for as many as 600, Parker estimated probably 300 or 400 would be served at the facility at 1204 14th St. W.

Some of those who dined Thursday comprised a different type of client, Parker said. They were the ones who drove up in a car, and two families got out — victims of foreclosure who perhaps were sharing a dwelling.

Then there were the more typical clients, the homeless, those down on their luck or without family nearby, such as Michael C. Pearson, 56, of Bradenton.

Pearson, who said he was a disabled veteran who had served in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, said he was “just barely surviving on disability.”

“I was hungry, very hungry,” he said, but for that moment, he looked satisfied, with a big piece of pie, half-eaten, on his plate.

Roy Ezell, 64, of Oneco, said he had a home and was employed, but decided to eat at the Salvation Army because he had no family nearby with whom to celebrate.

“Thank God people have a place to stay and a place to eat on the holiday,” he said.

About 40 people volunteered to help put on the meal, said Parker.

Among them were Ginny and Dan Rife, of Parrish, who brought their granddaughters, Justice Alvarado, 15, and Ashley Alvarado, 13, to help serve the crowd.

“We’ll have our Thanksgiving tomorrow,” said Ginny Rife. “Justice will cook.”

There were several other Thanksgiving dinners that took place in the area.

At First United Methodist Church of Bradenton, volunteers served a lunchtime meal to about 500 under tents at the church, 603 11th St. W. On the menu: roast pork, mashed potatoes, green beans, black beans and rice, and pies, said the Rev. Tom McCloskey.

Close to 200 volunteers helped with the meal, something that seems to provide dual benefits, McCloskey said.

“The folks that eat feel blessed, and those that help and serve feel blessed, so it’s a win-win, whichever side of the spectrum you’re on.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031 or at