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Lucky duckies flock to the finish in Tampa

TAMPA — The hundreds of people who stood on the edge of downtown Tampa's Garrison Channel on Sunday afternoon will never look at raffles the same way again.

Not after 20,000 rubber duckies slid out of a churning cement truck and plunged 50 feet into the bay.

"Whoa!" yelled 7-year-old Tyler Mersnick.

One of his ducks was in there, wearing sunglasses, bobbing lazily, in no rush to beat the others to the finish line and win him some Super Bowl tickets.

Thus began the Lucky Ducky Derby, the second annual fundraiser benefiting America's Second Harvest of Tampa Bay.

Second Harvest gathers and distributes food to 350 charities in a 10-county area, which serve more than 50,000 meals a week.

But in today's struggling economy, food banks are starting to see fewer donations and more people needing help, said Second Harvest director Pat Rogers.

Many of them have never needed help before.

That's where those little ducks came in. People adopted them for $5. Each, labeled with a corresponding number, gave them a chance to win.

Abbi Nicholson, 6, couldn't tell which one was hers, but she thought cheering might help.

"Go 062121!" she screamed, while ducks stuck together, pushed backward by the current.

Volunteers on kayaks steered the flock, scooping up the occasional stray racer and chucking it back on course.

A Marine Patrol boat helped speed up the race, towing the slowpokes from the Beneficial Drive Bridge next to Channelside to the dock at the Tampa Convention Center.

"Duckies!" squealed Ashlyn Riley, 3, as the ducks came in. She's a fan of the ducky. She bathes with 14 every day.

The luckiest duckies clocked in at about an hour, and people won prizes like airline tickets, passes to the Super Bowl and a Toshiba laptop.

But the real winner was Second Harvest, which pulled in about $95,000 from the race.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Lucky duckies flock to the finish in Tampa 11/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 9, 2008 10:54pm]

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