The temperature at LECOM Park was nearly 90 degrees, but that didn’t stop a large group of volunteers from showing up to help prepare for Bradenton Kiwanis Club’s ‘Christmas in August’. The Florida home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders hosts the annual event for needy families. ‘Christmas in August’ serves those who qualify for Project HEART, a program which helps families who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.
It’s the last Friday before the new school year starts; and among the baseballs and batting cage nets are tubs filled with toiletries and school supplies — all donated by community partners and sponsors. That’s where we found retired educator and Bradenton Kiwanis member Linda Agresta. Her smile and enthusiasm lights up any room. She serves as the perfect co-chair of the 7th annual event, and is excited that Manatee County’s homeless students (and their families) will receive free vision, medical, and dental exams; haircuts; food from the Salvation Army; books from the Early Learning Coalition; and support services from United Way Suncoast and Manatee Technical College.
Alysha O’Dell, a 2017 Manatee High School graduate, isn’t a stranger to helping those in need. “I was homeless and with the help of others,” said O’Dell, “We were able to turn our life around.” She came to help stuff backpacks with her fellow students from the State College of Florida volleyball team. O’Dell is a freshman in college and hopes to double major in Nursing and Health Services. Whether she’s feeding the homeless or donating clothing and school supplies for those in-need, she says that she is willing to do what it takes to make a difference in the community.
One of the youngest volunteers was Jack, a 7th grader at Braden River Middle School. He was there alongside his mom and younger sister, helping fill backpacks with paper, pencils, scissors, and other school supplies. Approximately 500 students in Manatee County will take home one of the backpacks. He’s familiar with giving back, too. Jack and his family frequently visit the Pride Park neighborhood on Saturday’s with their church, serving food and playing with children who live there. About what he’s doing today, Jack’s mom said, “he has a big heart for this!”
As a senior at Palmetto High School in 2014, Marquel Simmons started a program which allows youth leaders to serve as “Teen Health Educators” to peers and parents. They visit homeless shelters to discuss everything from dating violence to substance abuse, with high-risk teens. “I’m trying to make an impact in my community,” said the State College of Florida student. His group will be among the people making a difference at the Christmas in August event, helping families and students get the new school year off to a great start!
For more information about this event, please visit www.bradentonkiwanis.org.
#WeManatee stands for We are the School District of Manatee County. No matter what challenges we face, we strengthen each other when we stand together.