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Vendors feeding MLK paradegoers raising money for good causes

ST. PETERSBURG

As crowds gathered Monday at the largest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in the Southeast, food vendors along the perimeter of the parade route set up their tents and fired up their grills.

The thousands of paradegoers had various ways of celebrating the legacy of the civil rights icon at the 29th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Parade: clapping along with marching bands, waving American flags and donning shirts of President Obama or King.

Like any tradition, many added to the fun with food.

Some vendors set up shop to make money for a cause close to their heart.

Robert Gordon Sr. spent $1,000 setting up his barbecue stand with five family members. His goal: raise enough money so his family could accompany his son to his wheelchair basketball tournament at the University of Alabama.

Robert Gordon Jr., 18, was born with spina bifida, paralyzing him from the waist down. In the ninth grade, he found his niche in sports on the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team.

Last summer, he left high-school level basketball for the pro leagues; he was drafted as a point guard by the Orlando Magic, which practices in Tampa.

"Robbie is very inspiring," said Gordon Sr., 54. "He's outgoing. He's a leader."

Last week, he qualified as an alternate on the Men's USA Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball team. He's also on the junior team bound for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"It was always my dream to be an Olympian," he said.

Each dollar earned from every slab of ribs, rib dog, cheeseburger and soda will go toward plane tickets for six family members. Along with a meal, customers could donate for a T-shirt or a yellow rubber wristband engraved with "Real Victories Foundation," a year-old foundation for disadvantaged kids founded by Gordon Jr.

"When they found out I had a tournament coming up, they wanted to come with me," Gordon Jr. said. "We just want to be able to just travel as a family again."

The Gordons weren't the only ones raising money for a cause.

Across the street, Monica Pittman, 47, and a dozen family members scrambled around their tent with nicknames printed on the back of their bright red shirts, serving customers during lunch.

While the Gordons tackled barbecue, the Pittmans venture, Prez & Company, cornered the MLK Parade seafood market with their specialty: conch fritters.

The money they raised won't be used for years — it's for a college fund for 10-month-old Ashton Watson, whom family members call Prez.

"We need to get him prepared for Montessori school," said Pittman, Ashton's grandmother. "That's a must."

Back at the Gordon's tent, Keith Demmings, 42, stopped by with his daughter.

He said his family caravans from Brandon for the parade every year.

"A good parade and good food makes for a good time," Demmings said.

Colleen Wright can be reached at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8313. You can follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright.

5,000 in service projects

The celebration was more than just a parade in St. Petersburg.

Nearly 5,000 volunteers and participants had a hand in the second Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson started the day of service last year as a new way to honor King.

It kicked off with a breakfast Monday at the Coliseum, arranged by the National Council of Negro Women and sponsored by Duke Energy. About 700 attended.

Coordinators said nearly 5,000 people took on 65 service projects.

"It's much larger than last year," said project manager James Robinson. "It's a really big success."

Vendors feeding MLK paradegoers raising money for good causes 01/20/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 7:29pm]

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