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Jill Kelley feeds the homeless on Thanksgiving

TAMPA — It's billed as an "annual family tradition." But the hostess might be excused if she skipped the function last year. In a sense, former CIA director David Petraeus and his mistress saw to that.

Jill Kelley, husband Scott Kelley and volunteers held an event Thursday morning they called "Heart for the Homeless," to provide a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings to the down and out. It's one of the few public events the couple has held since Jill Kelley unwittingly triggered a scandal that rocked the U.S. military and intelligence community.

Invitations to some went out with just one day's notice and the Kelleys declined media interviews at the event held outside the International Longshoreman's Association building on E Harrison Street near downtown Tampa.

"It's a great turnout. Doctors. Dentists and lawyers," Scott Kelley told a TV cameraman who stopped to offer praise. "I was writing a book on cancer. And I was always telling my medical students. They would come out and help. So this year, it's great. A lot people came."

It was November 2012 when the Petraeus scandal erupted. Jill Kelley had complained about potentially threatening, anonymous emails from a person who turned out to be Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' mistress. The FBI investigated. Petraeus resigned as CIA director. Other emails between Kelley and Gen. John Allen — Kelley said they may have been flirtatious — became the subject of a Pentagon investigation.

Allen, former acting commander of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, was cleared of any wrongdoing but nonetheless turned down a NATO command and retired.

This year, the 40 or so homeless people who attended were unconcerned about that history and happy to get warm food on a cold morning.

"She knows how to bring the media out," said Michael Jokisch, who is living in a shelter. "What they're doing is very nice and we all really appreciate it. They're good people."

The Kelleys' meal was one of several held in the area for the less fortunate. At Donatello Italian Restaurant in Tampa, meals and gifts were prepared for 900 foster and at-risk children. Metropolitan Ministries also held its annual Thanksgiving meal.

Nathaniel Love, a pastor from Seffner, was at Donatello's and said charity on a holiday shows the less fortunate that they are loved and not forgotten by their community. "It's a blessing from the Lord," he said. "We're bringing family love to them."

Jill Kelley looked happy and at ease even with some media nearby at her event. She took a turn serving food as her husband went around tables collecting plates or garbage. A musician with a guitar sang and played tunes in the brisk air.

"Tell them they can have seconds," Scott Kelley told his wife, who announced it to the crowd.

Scott Kelley, a cancer surgeon, wore only surgical scrubs with short sleeves in the cold air. He was on call and said he had to go to the hospital later in the day. He gave his coat to his daughter, who showed up without one.

"She doesn't understand. She's a Floridian," he said.

Scott Kelley explained why he wouldn't talk to reporters. "We're just here to do the things we do every year, not really to interview," he said.

It wasn't so long ago that television news crews camped out on the sidewalk in front of the Kelleys' Bayshore Boulevard home hoping for any glimpse of Jill. She seemed pleased to see the cameras focused on the turkey-day meal.

She said, "There's not enough good on TV."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com.

Jill Kelley feeds the homeless on Thanksgiving 11/28/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 28, 2013 10:35pm]
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