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Caring and sharing for Christmas

MANATEE -- As Kevin Martin sat at the Salvation Army waiting for a Christmas meal, he couldn’t help but think about his family in Miami and how much he misses being around them.

“I’m not with my family but I talked with them this morning,” said Martin, 47. “They’re all happy. I can’t wait to see them.”

As a resident in one of the rehabilitation programs offered at the organization, he was one of the first 100 to eat a traditional Christmas meal Saturday.

“This meal means a lot. A lot of us are homeless and have no place to go,” said Martin, who spent much of the days before the holiday dropping off toy donations to children. “It was great to see those kids with joy in their eyes.”

As they do every day, the Salvation Army and Our Daily Bread fed anyone in the community looking for a hot meal on Christmas. This year that also included Vicky, 50, who has one more day in Manatee before heading home to the Panhandle.

She came down with her boyfriend to fish for two weeks with the intention of selling their catches back home. But they ran short on cash and have been relying on both organizations for a hot meal while in town.

“A guy standing behind me in line looked sad and I told him, ‘Look we are all here for the same reason and there is always someone who has it worse than you,’ ” said Vicki, who went on to say she is thankful for both locations’ generosity.

Both locations offered turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and all the trimmings. At the Salvation Army, guests were also treated with handwritten cards by students at Braden River Middle School.

For David Westgate, 28, the meal wasn’t exactly the same as those he used to share with his family on Christmas, but it was pretty close.

“It means a lot, I’m from a large family. We’d have 33 people at our house so having a meal here with these people is really nice,” Westgate said.

And as Major Bob Parker said, “If they spend time here they become family. It’s going to be a special day today.”

Parker stressed the holiday efforts would not be possible without volunteers.

Over at Our Daily Bread, members of Congregation Ner Tamid, a temple, passed out food.

“It’s our way to give the day off to the other volunteers so they can spend Christmas with their families,” said board chair Elaine Mittler. “We’re just happy to give back.”