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Manatee residents pay it forward for Thanksgiving

Abbey Steele, a producer of "The Jayar Show" on The Joy FM, collects donations as cars drive through the T-shirts for Turkeys event at Woodland Community Church on Nov. 9.
Abbey Steele, a producer of "The Jayar Show" on The Joy FM, collects donations as cars drive through the T-shirts for Turkeys event at Woodland Community Church on Nov. 9.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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As a steady stream of cars pulled through the Woodland Community Church parking lot, it looked like a fast food drive-thru at lunchtime, except the drivers weren’t getting food, they were giving it.  

On Nov. 9, the church hosted The Joy FM for their annual T-shirts for Turkeys donation drive to benefit the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program. Donors gave either a frozen turkey or $10 to receive a free T-shirt from The Joy FM.

The radio station has organized the event for 19 years. Over four days, employees make over 50 stops across Florida and into Georgia collecting Thanksgiving donations. Woodland hosts one of the stops because the church operates a food bank in partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay. 

Every Friday, up to 185 cars drive through their parking lot to receive groceries. About 35 church members volunteer their time to cover shifts. In the morning, they unload the truck, and in the afternoon, they give away everything that was on it. 

“You’ve just got to love on the people. It’s amazing to see God’s work in the community out east here,” Pantry Coordinator Tamia Mills said. “There were people who came to the food pantry, became members, and now, they work at the food pantry.”

Phyllis Wooten and Sky Morris make donations at the T-shirts for Turkeys event. The friends met seven years ago when Wooten was homeless.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

Bradenton resident Phyllis Wooten had a similar story to tell. She spent most of 2017 living in a tent near the Red Roof Inn in Ellington. Wooten was new to the area when her ex-husband dropped her off on the side of the road and didn’t return. She said it was the best thing that ever happened to her and attended T-shirts for Turkeys as a donor this year. 

“I continue to pay it forward every day,” Wooten said. 

Wooten met Ellington resident Sky Morris at the event. The two have been friends since those hard days in 2017, and they still text each other daily.   

“I saw her sitting on luggage with her dog, and I stopped,” Morris said. 

Every day after, Morris brought Wooten cereal with milk in the morning and whatever she was having for dinner at night. Whether Morris was cooking at home or eating at a restaurant, one meal was packed to go for Wooten. 

The kindness helped Wooten rebuild her life. She found work, bought a car and rented a house in Bradenton. She’s now a vendor for Utz Quality Foods. 

The Joy FM’s efforts have provided over 30,000 turkeys on Thanksgiving for four years straight. Donations directly benefit the community they’re in, so all the donations that were collected at Woodland will benefit families living in Sarasota and Manatee counties. 

Scott Biehler, executive director for Mayors’ Feed the Hungry, said that the donations will be split between 24 local food pantries. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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