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Group effort gives 55 families Thanksgiving meals to remember

LARGO — When people call the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, it's usually for help in an emergency.

This year, they're calling for food.

According to Deputy Cheko Carter, this is the first year the Sheriff's Office has received calls from families wanting Thanksgiving meals. Usually deputies determine who could use some help through visits in the community.

"Our numbers have increased as far as people in need," Carter said.

The numbers are also bigger this year at Calvary Episcopal Church in Indian Rocks Beach. The church food pantry is seeing about double the visitors since the economic downturn.

With that in mind, members of both groups arrived Wednesday afternoon at the loading dock behind the Indian Rocks Beach Publix, and with the help of several volunteers, loaded the deputies' cruisers with boxes and bags of turkey dinners.

Since 2003, Calvary Episcopal Church has worked with the Sheriff's Office, the Indian Rocks Beach Rotary and Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue to donate meals to county families during the holidays.

Coordinator Carol Beauchamp, 50, said the groups are dedicated to giving back to the community not once but three times a year.

"We do this Thanksgiving, Christmas and also Easter," she said. "Trying to give back blessings to other people … it brings you great joy."

Publix provided meals for 55 families at a reduced rate. Donations from the community and a $2,000 gift from Indian Rocks Beach Rotary helped buy the food for families in the Ridgecrest and High Point neighborhoods and the French Villas public housing complex.

When half a dozen deputies' cruisers pulled up to the Greater Ridgecrest Area Youth Development Initiative Center in Rainbow Village to drop off several dinners, Traci Blankumsee and her four children were all smiles.

Blankumsee, 35, is a single mother looking for work as a certified nursing assistant. She said the donation means being able to have Thanksgiving dinner at home.

"Everybody can sit at the table and say that prayer and give thanks for what happened this year," she said.

The GRAYDI Center helps her with her resume and provides tutoring for her children after school, she said.

Blankumsee said she's grateful she didn't have to move her family to a shelter this year.

"I'm thankful we have somewhere to stay," she said. "The family has been through a lot this year."

Son Ernest, 9, said he was "thankful for family." Daughter Erneisha, 10, was thankful she made honor roll at Ridgecrest Elementary.

Daughter Khadisha, a 17-year-old junior at Gibbs High School, is considering a future as a pediatrician.

She was grateful that she has become the recipient of a Doorways Scholarship, which are granted through the Pinellas Education Foundation and are available to county students from low-income families. Students who are chosen for college scholarships have to agree to maintain high grades and stay crime and drug free.

Blankumsee's 13-year-old daughter, Breanna, was focused on the more immediate. She was thankful for "the stuffing!"

Fast facts

How to help

If you would like to help with future holiday meals or the Calvary Episcopal Church food pantry, call the church at (727) 595-2374 or visit

Group effort gives 55 families Thanksgiving meals to remember 11/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 26, 2010 4:35pm]
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