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Bargains abound at city care center

(ran PC edition)

Volunteers and contributors make back-to-school shopping easy _ and free _ for Zephyrhills residents.

Doris Gray greeted her customers with a cheery smile and warm "hello" Saturday morning at the Neighborhood Care Center in Zephyrhills.

"Shop till you drop," she said. "We're open until 1 o'clock."

Friday and Saturday was School Days at the center, a time when residents could shop for clothes, at no cost to them. The only requirements are children must be accompanied by adults and they must reside in Zephyrhills.

Thanks to the generousity of area organizations, churches and individuals, children in the area shopped for clothes and received a package of school supplies with no price tags attached.

Racks of skirts, shirts, dresses, jackets, sweaters and trousers filled the main room of the center. Tables had jeans and shoes stacked neatly.

Outside by the main entrance was another table that had the school supply packets separated into senior, middle, grades 1-5 and pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

Each child received one as they left the center.

'"Yesterday was a madhouse," said Louisa Poole, who was volunteering at the center with her husband, Reese, and two sons, Charles, 14, and Matthew, 11. "I love to do this, I enjoy it a lot better than going to work and putting extra money in the household."

Reese Poole helps around the center loading heavy items, he said.

"When we lived up north we worked with home missions at our church, and we feel the need to continue here," he said.

On Saturday, a steady stream of customers dropped by the center on Sixth Street in Zephyrhills, but Gray said it was packed Friday.

"Our most popular items are the blue jeans and the shoes," said Gray, who heads up the annual school days event. "But nothing is wasted here. What we don't give away gets sent to Mexico, and the heavy clothing goes to the Panhandle."

The clothes are donated by families when they clean out their closets in the spring, and the center stockpiles them for the once-a-year event.

Gray says her volunteers are indispensable.

"If I didn't have all this help it couldn't be done," she said.

Seventeen-year-old Kelly Harrison of Zephyrhills came with her 2-year-old son Christian and her four stepchildren, Ray, William, Amber and Cassie.

"I got pretty much what I needed for them to start school," Harrison said. "I'm really glad they have this available for me."

Another appreciative shopper was Leah Hayden and her 11-year-old daughter Rebekah.

"'We found some T-shirts and jeans," Hayden said. "Everyone is very nice and helpful. I'm very grateful."

There was no limit on the items shoppers could take home, but most left with just a few articles.

According to Betty Rendleman, director of the center, 1,984 items of school clothes and 233 bags of school supplies were given away on Friday.

"Isn't that wonderful?" she said. "It is always a little slower on Saturday, and in the next two or three weeks people will trickle in when they hear about this from other people."

The hours of the center are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"The volunteers work on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Friday afternoons, restocking," Rendleman said.

_ Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459. Her e-mail address is jonessptimes.com.

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