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66 free feasts fill need in Pasco

Sero Singh, left, holds James Spencer, 7 months, while talking to his mother, Jennifer Craft, 27, right, and Craft’s children Hannah Craft, 11, and Rodney Craft, 6, on Thursday. Singh, her husband and their son brought a Thanksgiving dinner along with baby food to Craft.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Sero Singh, left, holds James Spencer, 7 months, while talking to his mother, Jennifer Craft, 27, right, and Craft’s children Hannah Craft, 11, and Rodney Craft, 6, on Thursday. Singh, her husband and their son brought a Thanksgiving dinner along with baby food to Craft.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Cathi Sanders and her grandchildren stood outside her mobile home Thursday morning as Vish, Sero and Nikeel Singh pulled up in a black Subaru.

Out of the car's hatchback came a long pan covered with tin foil that was filled with Thanksgiving goodies:

Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

When Vish Singh called her two days ago to let her know she was receiving a free turkey dinner through a new community outreach program, Sanders, 62, was ecstatic.

Money was tight this year after heart problems prompted Sanders to quit her job as a bookkeeper, and her husband is disabled.

"I couldn't believe it," said Sanders. "It was just going to be a regular day for us this year."

Without the turkey dinner, Sanders says her Thanksgiving meal would have been a simple one.

"We would have had Hamburger Helper."

• • •

Vish and Sero Singh moved to Florida from South Africa in 1992. They wanted to be closer to Sero's family, and fulfill Sero's wish to take care of senior citizens, which she had done for her ill parents back home.

So the couple started Jennifer Gardens, an assisted living facility tucked off Zimmerman Road.

Like many assisted living facilities in Pasco, Jennifer Gardens is part of the Community Service Council, an organization with about 90 members that organize community service projects throughout the year.

A few months ago, at a council meeting attended by officials from nonprofits including CARES, Good Samaritan and Healthy Families Pasco-Hernando, Sero and Vish suggested supplying turkey dinners to needy families.

The Singhs had tried the project last Thanksgiving, but didn't get much response. Dinners were to be picked up at a church, but many families didn't have a ride.

This time, the couple changed their approach. They asked Community Service Council members to refer needy clients. Vish, 56, would call before Thanksgiving to confirm that the family would be home.

The Singhs recruited officials from seven local assisted living facilities to purchase, cook and package the meals. And they lined up about 20 volunteers to deliver the packages to each family's home on Thanksgiving morning.

In all, 66 families — 200 people total — received free turkey dinners.

"There's so many people who need food," said Sero, 49, "so it really feels wonderful to be able to do this."

• • •

This time last year, Jennifer Craft was working in retail sales and having Thanksgiving dinner at her brother's house.

Since then, the single mother of four has struggled with blood clots, had a premature baby and lost her job.

An official at Healthy Families referred Craft, 27, for the outreach program.

When the Singhs stopped by her Port Richey apartment on Thursday and sat her Thanksgiving dinner on the kitchen counter, her two sons — ages 6 and 7 — squealed.

"Look, Mommy, it's a turkey!" said one.

"And pumpkin pie!" yelled another.

A smile eased across Craft's face. Without this free feast, "I would have stayed here and done something normal," she said. "I'm really thankful for them doing this."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

66 free feasts fill need in Pasco 11/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:27pm]
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