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Families expected to turn to outside help for Christmas dinner

MANATEE -- Rent or food.

For some families across Manatee County, that’s a struggle they face daily.

“This is the difference between being able to pay rent or not,” said Penny Goethe, kitchen manager at Our Daily Bread. “A lot of these people have been out of work for so long that no one wants to hire them.”

Her organization and the Salvation Army serve hundreds of residents, children included, every day. On Christmas, they are each expecting nearly 400 people to walk through their doors.

“This makes the difference because they don’t have to buy groceries,” Goethe said. “Now that school is out, the number of children we serve triples.”

Over the summer, the number of children eating there went from about an average of 700 over three months to 2,100 children during the three months when school was out.

The Salvation Army sees the same demographics.

“I think we really are attributing it to pure economics,” said Christine Smith. “The fact that so many families are struggling to make ends meet -- people who were not in this situation three years ago are finding themselves here. They are victims of job loss.”

Both Goethe and Smith stress that there is no shame in seeking help.

“There is an element of embarrassment, especially when a few years ago they weren’t struggling,” Smith said. “We have compassion and we’re understanding. They didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s a sign of what is going on. We are here to journey with them.”

At the end of the day, the main concern boils down to the children.

“They’ll say ‘I don’t care about me, I want food for my kid,’” Smith said. “These parents are very determined.”

In an effort to feed more people, not just during the holidays but on a daily basis as well, both organizations have coordinated their times, with one serving lunch and the other dinner.

“That way they get two very nice meals in one day,” Goethe said.

On Christmas, Our Daily Bread will serve a traditional lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes and other trimmings from 10 a.m. to noon.

The meals will be served by members of Congregation Ner Tamid.

“We anticipate seeing far more families this years because times are harder now and people need help more than before,” said board chair Elaine Mittler, who volunteered at Our Daily Bread last year. “Everyone is very appreciative and it gave us a good feeling of being able to help.”

The Salvation Army, 1204 14th St. W., Bradenton, will serve a Christmas dinner of ham, spring melody salad and other vegetables from 4 to 6 p.m.

Since both organizations never turn anyone away for a meal and allow for seconds on Christmas Day, they plan to cook a little extra this year.

“We make sure we overcook to be on the safe side,” Smith said.

They also plan to make it special, serving meals in restaurant style with volunteers bringing meals to the tables, which will be decked out with table clothes and Christmas decor along with cards made by volunteers.

“People do have big hearts and want to volunteer,” said Smith.

And maybe in another sign of the economy, there are a growing number of people willing to volunteer for organizations such as the Salvation Army, instead of giving monetary donations.

“People are hurting everywhere,” said Smith. “You have people who used to always donate money but still want to help, so they’ll donate their time to find unique ways to serve.”

Those who do have the means can donate hams to the Salvation Army for its food drive ending Dec. 23 for the Christmas dinner.

Any late donations or leftovers will be placed in the food pantry, which will open again in January.

“Any spiral cut ham would be great,” Smith said. “We’ll take any kind of food donation.”

The same goes with Our Daily Bread which, according to Goethe, will always take any kind of contribution.

“I can make anything work,” she said.