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Pasco deputies hand out food, blankets to those in need with help from volunteers and jail trusties

ZEPHYRHILLS

Santa wore police stars and prison stripes.

And he came to town Wednesday in the form of Pasco sheriff's deputies, civilian volunteers and jail trusties who handed out food baskets, fleece blankets and supermarket gift cards to those who needed a little help for the holidays. Those with infants also got baby food.

They checked no lists twice for outstanding warrants or immigration status. Anyone who came up, even if they didn't have a card showing they'd applied in advance, left with a box that contained popcorn, rice, canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese and spaghetti sauce.

"We won't turn anyone away," said Cpl. Alan Wilkett, who worked despite a nagging cough and 101-degree fever in the unseasonable 83-degree heat outside Lowe's on Gall Boulevard.

That included a man who walked up and left with two blankets under his arm.

"God bless y'all," he said as he crossed the parking lot.

Diane Santos of Zephyrhills especially appreciates the help. Her 35-year-old son, Felix, has cerebral palsy and needs constant care. Her husband has heart trouble.

"I'm taking the day off to do this," said Santos, who works at the nearby Walmart and who rode in a friend's Ford Focus with a trunk that wouldn't quite shut. "It's a little extra to get you through."

Even the inmates got into the holiday spirit, wishing each recipient a Merry Christmas.

"Some people have a tough time getting food, getting a job," said 19-year-old Jacob Elmore, who has 88 more days left on his 359-day sentence for grand theft.

The Holiday Food Drive has been an annual event at the Sheriff's Office since Jim Gillum was sheriff, or maybe as far back as the early 1980s, when John Short was sheriff. No one seems to remember.

It started out with a handful of families that deputies knew were going through tough times. Over the years, the numbers grew. In 2005, the food drive helped 360 families. Deputies knocked on doors to deliver turkeys and canned goods in person to those who were referred by social service agencies.

Over the past few years, the number climbed to about 1,000. Deputies gave out the food at distribution centers set up around the county.

"We didn't have enough deputies" to keep delivering food door-to-door, said Wilkett, who still has some baskets taken to shut-ins.

The effort begins weeks ahead of time in Pasco's public schools. Schools hold food drives to gather canned goods. Classes compete.

This year netted about 25,000 cans. Volunteers and inmates then sort donations and load them onto semi-trailers to be taken to distribution sites. This year, deputies handed out food at four places.

In light of the bad economy, they expected to have more than 1,000 applicants this year. But for reasons they don't understand, they got about 800.

"It's surprising," Wilkett said.

No food will go to waste, however. Leftovers will be given to local food banks and domestic violence shelters.

Said Wilkett: "This is our way of giving back to the community."

Pasco deputies hand out food, blankets to those in need with help from volunteers and jail trusties 12/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 8:30pm]

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