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Injured woman's gift: giving to others

Though injuries keep her from working, a Largo woman puts together a campaign to aid those whose needs are greater than hers.

Published December 6, 2003

LARGO - Injuries from an auto accident have prevented Erika Drake from working at her job at Vacation Register for the past four months.

Many would use the time to relax, gather their strength or, perhaps, feel sorry for themselves. Drake, however, had another idea: She came up with a campaign to provide food and other items for some 40 needy families, just in time for the holidays.

"I thought, instead of just sitting on my tush, I could do something constructive," said the 25-year-old single mother from Largo. "We should stop thinking about ourselves and everything else that's going on and start thinking about somebody else."

The families she wants to help are clients of three local organizations: Family Service Centers, which helps improve the availability of crucial resources to communities; the Pinellas County Department of Human Services; and Stepping Stone, a transitional housing program for the working poor.

She is collecting donations of baby food and other nonperishable food items, diapers, sheets, small appliances, silverware, pots and pans, toiletries and furniture.

She's also looking for Christmas gifts for the children of the families.

She and the management of the Sailwinds on Lake Seminole apartment complexes are providing a Holiday Wish Tree, which will be set up in the lobby of five apartment complexes in Largo and Clearwater. On the trees will be ornaments, painted by Drake, each with a child's name, age and a suggested Christmas gift.

Finally, she intends to deliver dinner to some of the families on Christmas Eve.

"They really won't have a holiday without our help," Drake said.

Kim Butcher, director of grants and media relations for Family Service Centers, agrees.

"If it wasn't for the generosity of the community, they wouldn't have much of a Christmas," she said. "People have tough times. It's not that they're bad people or bad parents. They're just looking for a way to strengthen their families."

Diana Carro, a social worker for the Department of Human Services, said employees have been collecting holiday donations for their clients for the past three years. Drake is contributing to that effort this year, Carro said, and it makes a big difference for clients.

"They're so thankful to be getting the things that most people consider to be basic items" like make-up, Carro said.

Drake wants to help despite the accident that left her with two bulging disks in her neck, a herniated disk in her back and bruises on her knees. She has had surgery and is undergoing physical therapy for her injuries.

Because of her inability to work, she has learned first-hand what it's like to struggle during the holidays. She said she and her son won't have much of a Christmas this year.

"If it wasn't for my parents, we'd be out on the streets," Drake said. "My parents are buying gifts for my son (Joshua). My gift is giving to others."

Peter Vasquez, assistant property manager for the Sailwinds on Lake Seminole, said he thinks everyone should be willing to help.

"I have four daughters, and things are hard for everybody," Vasquez said. "But we can still find a way to help people. Everybody out there can give a little and help make this world a better place."

[Last modified December 6, 2003, 01:33:58]

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