MANATEE COUNTY — The story in Dick Woodall’s mind is as clear as when his mother tells it.
As the daughter of sharecroppers, Woodall’s mother would travel from farm to farm, following the crops and the seasons with her family. At one point, when they were living in Tennessee, her parents announced they had no money with which to buy Christmas presents.
“Her mother and dad told her they had no money for Christmas,” Woodall said. “They remember getting a knock on the door and it was the Salvation Army bringing them toys.”
As the president of the Kiwanis Club of Lakewood Ranch, Woodall will have a chance to spread the Christmas spirit to families like his own this weekend. From 3-5 p.m., Dec. 13, he and other members of the organization will hand out toys, blankets and canned food items to migrant farm families at Falkner Farms.
The celebration is a collaborative effort between the Lakewood Ranch Kiwanis group and Harvest United Methodist Church, which is organizing the event.
Organizers are expecting more than 800 people to attend Sunday’s event.
“Each year we go, there are more and more needy families that come out from the farms,” Woodall said. “A lot of them have very small children and usually larger families. I’ve always had a soft spot for the migrant workers and the challenges they went through.”
The event has grown since Kiwanis first joined Harvest’s efforts about four years ago. Back then, the church would bring out a trailer filled with toys, and Kiwanis volunteers helped distribute them.
“We kept seeing that not every person was getting something,” Woodall said. “We stepped it up the next year and got blankets.”
This past year, members noticed attendees received juice and cookies, but no substantial food. To remedy the situation, Kiwanis members instituted a food drive to collect non-perishable foods in addition to the toys and blankets they will distribute on Dec. 13, Woodall said.
This year, the Kiwanis also are sponsoring a lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers for the migrant families who attend.
The Kiwanis also have rallied the support of members in their school-aged Kiwanis groups to help collect items for families in need. Children have been collecting stuffed animals, blankets and other items for the past few weeks. Key Club members from Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools will participate in the outreach, as well.
“You go to places like this and you go because you think you are going to help other people, and then you realize on the way back how blessed you are,” said Kiwanis past president Julie Aranibar.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
HOW TO HELP
Harvest United Methodist Church, 14305 Covenant Way, Bradenton, will be taking donations of gift cards and other items for families from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, through Dec. 11.
In a collaborative effort, the Kiwanis of Lakewood Ranch are collecting new toys, blankets and canned food items to deliver to Falkner Farms as well. For information, contact Dick Woodall at 720-5296.
The Kiwanis of Lakewood Ranch is an all-volunteer group with a mission to help East County children one child at a time. Each dollar raised by the organization goes back to the children.
The group meets at noon, Tuesdays, at The Polo Grill and Bar, 10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch.
For information, visit www.kiwanislwr.org or call Woodall at 720-5296.