Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Sharing in the spirit of giving

UPPER KEYS -- Jennifer Melendez won't have to worry about not having any presents for her 6-year-old son on Christmas morning.

The unemployed mother is like many in the Florida Keys who are struggling through tough financial times and need a little help to celebrate the holiday. But a program between Key Largo School and Key Largo Baptist Church to provide gifts to the needy will bring smiles to her family and many others on Wednesday.

"A lot of people are in need," Melendez said, adding most of her son's friends' parents were at the church Friday evening to receive gifts for their children.

Christmas is a time that brings many divergent groups together for the same charitable purpose, including bars, schools and churches.

"I don't think people realize how many people live in trailers, sheds or shacks on the side of the road," said Larz Tatro, general manager at Ocean View Inn Sports Pub in Islamorada.

For the recent Toys for Tots fundraiser, the OV served as one of many dropoffs throughout the Upper Keys. Tatro estimated about 6,000 toys and 50 bicycles came through the Windley Key bar during the fundraiser, making it the largest year yet.

"It seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year," he said. "It's incredible what people do."

Gen Gibson, who organized the giveaway at the mile marker 106 Baptist church, said she wanted the community to see the outpouring of charity and hopefully it would inspire more.

The church provided 223 children with gifts, including scooters, Legos, Barbie dolls and stocking stuffers. Parents were issued raffle tickets and used the tickets to select gifts. Those gifts were then taken to a different station where a group of volunteers wrapped them. Gibson said each family took home either a bicycle or a scooter.

She said the volunteers were touched by some of the requests.

"One child just asked for underwear, socks and a basketball," Gibson said.

She said it was a privilege for her and the other volunteers to participate in the program.

"This isn't about Key Largo Baptist Church," Gibson said. "It's about the community coming together and helping."

She noted that many other worthwhile charitable events were taking place throughout the Keys.

Recently in Key West, Zachary Bentley, who serves as the parish manager of The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic church, paid off the debts of 86 customers who were using Kmart's layaway system to pay for Christmas gifts. The pastor declined to say how much it cost him, and only came forward because he hoped to encourage similar acts of kindness.

jgore@keysnews.com

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