TAMPA — Growing up in Miami, Roger Pettee knew what poor felt like. He sometimes sat outside the Boys Club and sold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to help his family get by.
"I know how it is to not have any presents on Christmas," he said. "When I was a kid, I remember a couple of times when I would have had no presents whatsoever if it weren't for the Boys Club of Miami."
So tonight at the Kwane Doster Community Center in Port Tampa and tomorrow at a Boys & Girls Club on Yukon Street, Pettee is paying it forward.
Pettee, 67, picked up the tab for food, drinks and stuffed animals.
Wednesday, he shopped for used baseball and softball equipment at Play It Again Sports in Britton Plaza, where they give him special deals.
"It is easier to give a baseball and a glove than doing the whole football, helmet and shoulder pad thing," the former University of Florida and Dallas Cowboy's football player said.
His baseball giveaways started in the Dominican Republic, where on a trip in 2002, Pettee witnessed extreme poverty. He went back there several times with baseballs and ball caps for the kids.
"In the Dominican Republic, baseball is the big sport and it was a way to get in and reach the kids," said Steve Nesbitt, a Tampa restaurateur who helps out.
This year, Pettee realized children here need his help, too. He started a nonprofit organization to help Tampa kids.
"It might be selfish a little, but I kind of do it because of the smiles I get and the satisfaction I get," Pettee said.
He makes a difference.
"We still probably would have done something for the kids but the gifts wouldn't have been as nice," said David Armstrong, director of the David & Casey Shear Boys & Girls Club.
Port Tampa children nearly had no party at all, Pettee said.
"They were going to cancel the Christmas party because they couldn't fund it, but I said, 'No we're not.' "
Pettee, a retired financial planner for Aegon who has two children and three grandchildren, said he will probably spend about $3,000 between the two parties.
In February, he hopes to open the Tampa Bay Free Kidz Store. He got the idea after a visit to the Baltimore Free Store in Maryland. His store will accept donations, but everything will be free. It will be only for children.
Pettee's Christmas wish? He'd love for a professional athlete to come to the parties.
Note to Derek Jeter: The first party is at 5 tonight at the Port Tampa Recreational Center, the second is at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the North Tampa Boys & Girls Club.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.