ELLENTON — A military couple living in Wimauma, whose story touched the hearts of two veterans groups in Ellenton and many others, now have $6,093 to help them get back on their feet.
A mock check given to Spc. Vincente Clark and his wife, Giovanna, represented funds raised by Ellenton’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9226 and American Legion Post 325 during a benefit Sunday.
The Clarks were devastated when their 22-month-old son, David, drowned in April.
The couple, who both served in Iraq, had to put the roughly $3,500 cost of the baby’s funeral on a credit card, which didn’t sit well with the local veterans groups when they learned about it.
“We did not want them to think about the death every time they made a payment,” said Richard “Ditto” Blanch, president of the men’s auxiliary of VFW Post 9226.
Giovanna Clark was overcome by the generosity.
“I can only say how grateful I am,” said Clark, whose husband is stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., and could not attend.
The idea for the benefit sprang from Laurie O’Brien, a server at Popi’s Place Too in Palmetto, where David’s grandmother, Angelica Illan Martinez, is also a server.
O’Brien contacted Gary Fiochetta, past commander of FVW Post 9226.
Fiochetta’s voice broke when he talked about the family from a stage outside the VFW during the benefit, which featured plenty of sunshine, hamburgers, hotdogs and salads, a silent auction, and a $3 a toss dunk tank.
“Vets take care of vets,” Fiochetta said later. “Having a mother and father both in Iraq and then to have them lose a small child — I just can’t imagine what that could be like.”
Starting about a month ago, after O’Brien put out collection jars with David’s picture on it all over Palmetto and Ellenton and did nonstop work on the phone, donations began pouring in.
ESPN sportscaster Dick Vitale and his family contributed after reading about the family’s struggles in the Bradenton Herald.
Other contributors included Tire Kingdom, Kojacks, Popi’s Restaurant, Clean Freaks Pressure Wash, Dana Site Development, Coop’s Cafe, Perfect Clean, Budweiser, Sundown, Sundance Nursery, Hazelbaker Plumbing and Stacey’s Buffet, said Angela Silva, the ladies auxiliary president for the VFW.
Silva brought tears to people in the crowd of about 200 when she gave a short speech in honor of the family.
“David’s was a life short-lived but not without purpose,” Silva said. “He has brought us all together today. Our wish to assist his family shows that we do not forget our veterans and the sacrifice of our soldiers.”
Many of the 200 in attendance were like Naomi Vaught, Ada Chitty and Tina Chitty, who are long-time customers of Popi’s Place Too, where they know Angelica.
“We love Angelica,” Ada Chitty said.
Angelica Illan Martinez cried during the event. She drives 52 miles round trip from Wimauma to Palmetto to work in the restaurant and, most days, would think of David, who she called, “my angel sunshine.”
“He didn’t talk yet, but we communicated,” she said. “I miss him so much that words can’t express it. But my friends who came today to be with me and my family help everything.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686