BRADENTON -- Susan French's mother was a victim of domestic violence, so she remembers the holidays weren't always the happiest times growing up.
Those memories motivate French, a support specialist at the Disability Resource Center at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, to give back each year on Thanksgiving. Joined by employees and members of Friends of Hope, French kept a five-year tradition alive by delivering a complete Thanksgiving meal to Manatee County victims of domestic violence at the Hope Family Services shelter.
"My van is always full," French said.
This year, the staff was able to bring a turkey, spiral ham, appetizers, drinks, salad, des
serts, turkey trimmings and flowers for the table. They also donated a box of nonperishable food for when the leftovers run out.
For French, it's important to make these holidays less worrisome for those staying in the shelter.
"They don't have their own home. They don't have their own belongings," she said.
The Hope Family Services shelter can hold up to 35 domestic violence victims -- mostly women and children, and sometimes men, said Laurel Lynch, center chief executive officer. The shelter is at capacity now, although it ebbs and flows.
Domestic violence victims come from all over the socioeconomic spectrum. Some have the means to leave the situation, some don't. The most important factor for all remains safety, and one of the big benefits Hope Family Services offers is helping victims devise a safety plan.
Community support is geat
The Manatee County community, especially during the holidays, helps keep the nonprofit organization afloat.
"Our community supports us so much," Lynch said. "It's really amazing."
The nonprofit has 28 full-time staff members and provides a variety of services. Counseling and other support is also available for the victims to make the best choice for their safety. Those in the shelter stay between six and eight weeks, although Lynch said the average time is typically shorter.
"They need a safe place to go when home isn't," Lynch said.
For the most part, the victims know the staff is working to help them out of compassion and kindness, but it's a different feeling when random strangers do something to give back "just because they want you to feel better," Lynch said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.