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Needy kids get the gift of fun

Eight-year-old Alex Canchola had trouble sleeping Friday night. The south Hillsborough third-grader couldn't rest because he was too busy imagining the thrill of his first merry-go-round ride.

Canchola and his seven brothers and sisters were among 578 Hillsborough County children on Saturday to attend the seventh annual St. Paul's Carnival in the Park for free. St. Paul Catholic Church parish members donated money for the Kidsday project, which provided unlimited rides, food and games for underprivileged children who might otherwise never have the opportunity to attend a carnival.

"I don't get out of my neighborhood very much," said Canchola, proudly displaying a goldfish in a plastic bag he won at a carnival game. "It's great to get out and do something different. The bumper cars are my favorite. I'm going to go on them as many times as I can."

The children came to the weekend carnival from all over Hillsborough with the help of local organizations such as Angels Unaware, Good Samaritan Mission and Joshua House. The groups provided transportation and supervision at the carnival, the church provided food and games, and Fred's Amusements provided arm bands for free rides.

Fran Jensen, a St. Paul parish member for 11 years, began organizing Kidsday five years ago as a way to give something back to the community.

"For many of these children, riding in a car is a treat," Jensen said. "That's what moved the people of St. Paul's to want to do this _ to realize that there are a lot of kids out there who have never even been on a carnival ride. Times like this, you get your life in perspective and realize how lucky you are. The carnival has always been a fund-raiser for the church, so why not also make it a fund-raiser for the community?"

Ross Fabien, an outreach worker with the Central City YMCA, brought nearly 100 children from inner-city neighborhoods to the carnival on church grounds at Stall Road and Dale Mabry Highway.

"This is more than just an outing for them," Fabien said. "This brings them away from drugs and violence to a different environment, a Christian lifestyle. Even if they do go to other carnivals, they usually just walk around because they can't afford to play any games or go on rides. They can really be a part of this carnival."

Fred Thumberg, owner of Fred's Amusements, said the best part of donating free rides is watching the excitement on children's faces.

"I want to spread some good around the community a little, and I know that these kids have no other source to enjoy this type of entertainment," he said. "This is good, wholesome entertainment that a lot of families would never enjoy without this program. The smiles on their faces and the look in their eyes _ like it's Christmas _ is all the thanks I need."

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