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Tropicana donations become ‘Christmas miracle’

BRADENTON -- For the Avery family, the holidays are shaping up to be a little brighter this year -- in more ways than one.

Living without water or electricity for nearly eight months, a $1,000 donation from the workers at Tropicana now have allowed the family of five to turn on their lights for Christmas.

Showers no longer mean a trip to Grandma’s. They can once again keep food in the house.

“It truly is a Christmas miracle,” said mother Connie Avery. “We were so surprised. We were just trying to do what ever we could to get by. We never expected this.”

Connie lives with her husband Jerry, 18-year-old daughter Mary, and two sons, Alex, 17, and Jerry, 6.

Times have been tough.

An auto accident two years ago forced Jerry to leave his job as a warehouse manager for a local moving company. Connie also hurt her back and has been out of work for several months.

With no steady income, the family has been struggling to come up with the $650 rent each month for their 18th Street Bradenton trailer. After that, it was either the utilities or food.

“We had to go to my mother’s to shower and cook,” Connie said from her porch Thursday. “We still lived here and slept here but that was about it.”

The Averys were facing about $800 in deposits and back bills to get their utilities restored. They turned to local churches and nonprofits for help, but most wouldn’t make deposits on their behalf, Connie said.

That’s when an unexpected hand came to their reach.

Mary Arredondo, a friend of Connie’s who works as a safety specialist for Tropicana, knew something had to be done. She sent mass emails companywide and went to her coworkers one-by-one to solicit donations. She refused to come up shy.

Within 48 hours, the Tropicana workers raised $1,000. Now the Avery family will have toys, clothes and a hot meal on Christmas too.

“We had to do this, we just had to,” Arredondo said. “These are good Christian people. How do you let people in this day and age live like that? You just don’t. You have to have a heart.”

The Avery family believes Tropicana’s donation will be enough to land them back on their feet. Jerry is still fighting for disability benefits, and Connie hopes to return to work in January following back surgery.

For now, the family is just soaking in the Christmas cheer.

Daughter Mary said the first thing she did when the power went on this week was rush to her bedroom and turn on the radio. Alex had his sights on the TV. Their parents were just excited for a hot shower.

“Christmas is still going to be scarce,” Jerry said. “But at least we can turn on the water and lights. That’s enough. This is all we could have asked for.”

Josh Salman, Herald business writer can be reached at 941-745-7095.