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Just for Girls Club exudes spirit of giving (with photo gallery)

BRADENTON -- Ten-year-old Katie Cepeda asked to receive a doll for Christmas.

But as a member of East Bradenton’s Just for Girls Club, Katie recently learned the importance of giving during the holidays.

Katie and scores of other girls at the 1011 21st Street East center were able to give presents to loved ones thanks to United Way of Manatee County’s Holiday for the Heart.

United Way representatives brought nearly 100 girls presents to give to their parents as part of the annual event. Girls were asked to think of what their parents might want before thinking about the dolls, iPods or Nintendo DS systems they wanted.

“The purpose is to teach them the joy of giving,” United Way’s Terrie Zieber said.

Kimora Francis, 5, said her mother couldn’t wait to open the gift.

“She said she was so proud of me,” Kimora said, recalling how her mother smiled seeing her new wallet.

Wallets, baseball caps, cologne and cosmetic cases were doled out for the girls to give to their parents or loved ones.

Santa Claus visited the center and spoke with each of the girls.

United Way also provided food bags filled with canned hams and other foods. And United Way board member Vernie Pickhardt collected about $2,500 to defray the cost of Holiday for the Heart.

“The parents were just so thankful. Some of them couldn’t take their kids to see Santa Claus,” assistant director Yesenia Garcia said. “And they couldn’t believe it when they got the gift bags filled with food.”

Katie said her mother deserved the new gift and more.

“She helps me when I’m sick. She cooks. She cleans. She drives me anywhere,” the Freedom Elementary School student said.

Janicia Lily, 13, said it would have taken more than a month to save up for the kind of gift she wanted to give her mom.

The wallet she gave her mom was “a little something to show my appreciation,” Janicia said.