ST. PETERSBURG — It's the high season of charitable giving, when Salvation Army kettles fill and food pantries are restocked.
At St. Petersburg Catholic High School on Tuesday, cars dropping off students slowed and stopped in front of the media center to unload a grocery list of items from baby food to peanut butter.
Since Nov. 1, the students have collected more than 14,000 food items, seemingly a bit short of the 30,000 to 40,000 anticipated by Friday, when the annual food drive ends. But Stephen McEntegart, coordinator of youth ministry at the school, is confident that donations will accelerate as the week progresses. The seniors, he said, are known to hoard the bulk of their contributions until the final day of what has become a good-natured competition among the classes.
Evan Kurt, 17, and his sister, Marissa, 16, arrived early with a trunkful of grocery bags, many filled by residents in their Seminole neighborhood. The siblings proceeded to evenly divide the donations under their respective sophomore and senior signs.
The food drive, which dates back about 15 years, mostly benefits Daystar Life Center, a downtown St. Petersburg agency that helps the poor.
A goal of the effort is to remind students that "Christ calls us to love the poor," McEntegart said.
"The fact is, to be a good Christian means to be a good citizen too," said Father Michael Conway, president and director of the 427-student school, as he watched donations accumulate.
This weekend, in another long-standing tradition, an interfaith congregation of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'is will gather for Thanksgiving worship and collect food and money for several Pinellas County agencies that assist the poor.
"All of our religions serve other people and help the poor and the needy," said the Rev. Janel Miller-Evans, head of the St. Petersburg Clergy Association, which is organizing the Sunday Thanksgiving service. "Loving our neighbor is what we can do together."
It is a concept that Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel, who has been tapped to give the Thanksgiving message, savors. Sunday's service is an opportunity for diverse faiths to gather "under one roof to give thanks to God with one voice," he said. "What a model that can be for our community and our world. If we could just all set aside our differences and focus on our commonalities, we would all be the richer for it."
At St. Vincent de Paul in St. Petersburg, which traditionally provides Thanksgiving turkeys and fixings to those in need, the approaching holiday is causing some anxiety for Michael Raposa, executive director of the charity.
St. Vincent de Paul needs 300 turkeys to give to families who are scheduled to begin picking up their holiday baskets on Friday.
"This year, the turkeys are coming in slower than usual," Raposa said. "We have gotten a little more than 300 in requests and we work hard to not to turn anybody away."
And private citizen Darryl Jones, who carries on his late grandmother Rosa Jackson's tradition of feeding the poor and lonely at Thanksgiving, also is seeking holiday donations.
His mother, Eloise Jones, wanted her son, who is battling colon cancer, to take a break from smoking and baking turkeys this year.
"I guess he looks forward to this dinner that keeps him going, so I leave him alone," she said.
"Before my grandmother passed, I told her as long as I could do it, I would do it," said Jones, who travels from his home in Apopka to prepare the meal that is served at the Campbell Park Recreation Center.
"It helps people on a holiday, on Thanksgiving, that don't have anything," he said.
Jane Walker, executive director of Daystar, which will benefit from the efforts of Sunday's interfaith gathering and St. Petersburg Catholic's food drive, noted that generosity is important year round.
"But Thanksgiving," she said, "is a time when people connect together in appreciation of their own gifts that they are given, as they did on the original Thanksgiving, when strangers came together to make sure nobody went hungry."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.