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Nearly 500 families get free turkeys at Pride Park in Bradenton

MANATEE -- Times are hard for just about everyone.

Times are especially hard for those Manatee County families who must stretch a little money to cover food for many mouths, said Vilma Lazo, a Bradenton resident who was laid off her job recently.

And now, here comes Thanksgiving and memories of luscious, but expensive, turkey and trimmings.

But some are out there wanting to help.

On Monday afternoon, Pastor Jerry Parrish, Youth At Risk Coordinator for the Manatee County YMCA, handed out 475 frozen turkeys to needy families.

For four years now, Parrish, whose mission is to turn the tide of gangs in Manatee County, has hosted the Annual Pride Park Turkey Project, which provides free turkeys and groceries to families.

Teachers and guidance counselors from Harllee Middle School and Daughtrey, Able, Oneco, Samoset and Wakeland elementary schools gave “free turkey” tickets to students they deem needy, Parrish said.

The giveaway began at 4:30 p.m. By 5:05 p.m., all the frozen birds were gone.

People kept coming, however, some saying they had walked from work and couldn’t help being late.

Parrish told them there were no more turkeys and hugged them.

“You can’t just mentor a child to stop gang membership,” Parrish said. “You have to mentor an entire family. And, to do that, you have to support them. That’s the only way to stop generational gang membership, which, we absolutely can not and won’t allow to happen.”

Many have bought into Parrish’s belief that showing love to one needy family at a time is the way to turn lives around exponentially.

This year, two families gave $6,266, Parrish said.

“Harry and Pete Vandernoord of the River Reef Grill in Palmetto and Daniel and Virginia Judge of Honeycomb, a local military contractor, donated all the money for the turkeys,” Parrish said.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office donated a tractor-trailer to stage the giveaway and deputies Steve Ogline and Alan Fifield, along with Frank Gargett from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, couldn’t stop smiling.

“It feels good to see the smiles on their faces,” Ogline said.

This year, the Manatee County School District also joined in the Turkey Project and sent drop out specialists, homeless specialists, teen age parenting experts and others, said Mike McCann, the county’s drop-out prevention supervisor.

State College of Florida and Manatee-Sarasota Dental Hygiene both donated members of their dental hygiene programs so hundreds of adults and children could be screened for dental problems right at the turkey project.

Rosie Soperanes could hardly contain her excitement.

“Now, we can have a special family dinner where we are all together,” Soperanes said through translator Jan Alvarez of the Manatee school district. “Without this turkey, I would have to make tamales for Thanksgiving, which is a good simple meal. Now, I will feed 10.”

Soperanes will make a “Mexican stuffing,” called “reno,” for her turkey. The stuffing is comprised of mashed potatoes, bacon, bread, celery, onions and other ingredients.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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