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Elephants, kids and Occupy Tampa enjoy Thanksgiving

TAMPA

Barack stuffed carrots, bananas and lettuce into his mouth on Thursday. Truth be told, he was a bit of a slob, smearing food all over the place.

And he didn't seem concerned about his waistline. When you tip the scales at 1,700 pounds or so, calorie counting gets depressing.

And anyhow, elephants can't count.

Thanksgiving Day in the Tampa area opened with the feeding of eight famished pachyderms at the Florida State Fairgrounds, an annual event by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to mark the holiday. The elephants hardly paused between bites.

Residents across Hillsborough probably did much the same on a day for giving thanks, stuffing stomachs and enjoying the company of loved ones.

About 900 foster children and at-risk families ate a hearty meal at Donatello Restaurant, its 25th annual Thanksgiving feast. Some Disney characters kept the little ones entertained. Children left with small gifts.

Brother and sister Damaris Jordan, 11, and Tylira Owens, 12, of Tampa came down with their great aunt Rose Whitaker.

"I liked the turkey best," Damaris said.

"Wonderful," Whitaker agreed. Snow White and Cinderella wandered by. A car on Dale Mabry honked. An entranced gaggle of kids followed.

The mood was more somber for about 15 Occupy Tampa protestors at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park near downtown Tampa. Protestors complained that police visited the previous evenings and carted off sandwiches and other food. (Tampa police did not respond to a call seeking comment.)

But more food was brought down, and a handful of protestors enjoyed a tasty Thanksgiving meal.

Matt Lefler, 23, of Tampa was worried. He had enjoyed his Occupy Tampa food a little too much.

"I'm as full as I can be," he said. "And now I've got to go to my grandmother's house for another meal."

Back to the elephants, where 30 to 40 guests from the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA look on.

The elephants, some topping 9,000 pounds, didn't seem too interested in the pumpkins, despite the children chanting, "Eat the pumpkins! Eat the pumpkins!"

Then came a "don't try this at home" moment. Workers placed a big watermelon in front of each elephant, and the beasts obligingly smashed them with their giant feet. The kids were impressed.

A harmonica was put in Barack's trunk. Barack, who was born shortly before President Obama's inauguration (hence his name) and is still just a baby, produced a good riff to cheers. Try that, Mr. President. Stephen Oakes of Valrico was the only person in a small crowd wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Zombie Invasion Response Team." His daughter, Bella, 2, sat atop his shoulders.

That's when Bella revealed her wish for a Christmas present, one that Santa might not be able to stuff down the chimney.

"A baby elephant," she said.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

Elephants, kids and Occupy Tampa enjoy Thanksgiving 11/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 24, 2011 9:50pm]

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