Manatee's Adopt-a-Family marks 30 years of service

BRADENTON -- Her name was Shavon Williams and she could've been any of the parents anxiously sitting next to an Adopt-a-Family volunteer Monday morning in the nonprofit's temporary quarters.

Young single mom.

Four little children.

Asking for just a few gifts for her kids at Christmas.

"Even if it's something used," said Williams, 27. "As long as kids get to open something that morning, they're happy."

Kim Duty has interviewed so many parents just like Williams over the years. So have her fellow volunteers, all of whom were busy Monday morning.

"The names change, but the needs are the same," said Duty, Adopt-a-Family president. "Many of them would have almost nothing for Christmas if we didn't exist."

Indeed, the names have kept changing, but the needs have remained throughout the history of the all-volunteer nonprofit that provides Christmas gifts for low income families in Manatee County.

Monday morning marked Adopt-a-Family's 30th anniversary.

"The need is still out there," said past-president Elaine


"That's what keeps bringing us back," said volunteer Marilyn Newsham.

That fact warms the heart of people like Williams, who intends to return to work as a fast-food store manager after her maternity leave is over.

This will be her third Christmas availing herself of Adopt-a-Family's generosity -- and she hopes it's her last.

"If I'm working and I'm able, I'd rather let other needy families come and get this. If I don't need it, I won't use it," Williams said.

"If you need help, it's good to go get it, especially for the kids."

Her mother was a single mom, too, but somehowalways managed to have something for Williamsand her siblings at Christmas.

Adopt-a-Family has been a blessing.

"It would be very hard without it, especially ifyou've just had a baby," she said.

"Kids are looking at you for anything, even if it's cheap. The guilt is bad. So this is a big help."

Adopt-a-Family officials estimate they will have gifts for 4,500 children this Christmas, despite donations being down.

"That's understandable," Duty said. "But we hope as we get closer to Christmas we'll do better. We need people to adopt and we need donors."

Regardless, there were tables in the warehouse piled with children's games, dolls, mechanical toys and more.

There was clothing, too.

Some families requests are for basics, such as socks and underwear.

"These parents come to us for help and we try to preserve their dignity,because they don't wantto be here. These people want to be able to provide, but they can't becauseof circumstances," Duty said.

"Many are working poor, one paycheck away from disaster. Or they've lost their jobs. Or they're doing the best they can under the circumstances.

"They need somethingto help them and that'swhat we do. We don't change their world. We changeone morning where theyhave something to open."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: Adopt-a-Family registration

Where: Sarasota Bradenton Commerce Center, 7245 16th St. E., Building 7245, Suite 101, Bradenton

When: Now through Nov. 16; hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 4-7 p.m. Wednesday

Information: Call 941-748-4424, visit www.adoptafamilymanatee.com, or email adoptafamily@ymail.com