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Hope and joy are dispersed along with food, gifts

Metropolitan Ministries can use more volunteers as needy families visit for help to get through the holidays.

Published December 18, 2005

TAMPA - Twinkling lights seemed to play hide and seek as they lit up palm and Christmas trees.

The sounds of carols whisked through the cool, moist air, dancing with the scent of roasted turkey.

People smiled, shook hands and hugged.

And children played on slides and swings.

It wasn't what Felicia English expected when she came to Metropolitan Ministries for a food basket for her and her 4-year-old daughter.

It was more than she had hoped for.

"This is a heck of a setup," said English, eating popcorn under the organization's big white tent as she waited to get supplies Saturday afternoon.

English, 40, and her daughter came to Tampa from Port Charlotte after Hurricane Charley ravaged their home in 2004.

"We came here with a laundry basket of clothes. ... Me and my baby ain't have nothing," said English, a single mother.

Still trying to get back on her feet, English sought holiday help from Metropolitan Ministries, 2100 N Florida Ave.

"I think they're very caring and very special people to have come down here and volunteered like this," she said.

At that moment, Jimmie Helms, a volunteer, approached.

"Metropolitan Ministries wants to be sure you have what you need, and we've got food and toys packed up over there for you," he said.

Helms, 35, of Tampa walked English outside, rolling a red wagon full of food and toys.

"God bless you," he said as he came in to start the process over again with someone else.

"It's real easy," Helms said about his time volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries. "It's not as hard as people think it is."

Helms brought his son, Jimmie Jr., 8, and daughter, Cassidy, 10, as did dozens of other parents Saturday, during family volunteer day.

Still, this holiday season, volunteers have been hard to come by as Metropolitan Ministries expands its services and tries to reach even more needy families. By Christmas Eve, Metropolitan Ministries expects to serve more than 12,000 people, many of them children, through "Boxes of Hope," which provide food to the needy and "Boxes of Joy," which provide toys.

"In previous years we had to turn people away because there wasn't enough to do," said the charity's spokeswoman Tracy Clouser.

Ray and Tam Samochin and their two sons were turned away last year, Tam Samochin said.

"Last year, all the volunteer spaces were filled and we were so bummed out about it," Tam Samochin said. "So this year, we signed up for nine days."

The Samochins' sons - Zack, 13, and Alex, 9 - donned Santa hats as they helped volunteers register. This Christmas season is the family's third year volunteering.

"If you come once, you're hooked," Tam Samochin said.

Trekking back and forth through the donation tent, 10-year-old Cierra McAffee of St. Petersburg made sure everyone who wanted popcorn or drinks had them.

"It makes me feel happy to make other people smile," Cierra said, "and know that they feel special."

Amber Mobley can be reached at 813 269-5311 or


Metropolitan Ministries is still in need of food donations, especially rice, cereals, gravy, cookies and dessert mix as well as new, unwrapped toys and gifts for children of all ages, especially teens and infants. The organization has a list of suggested gift items and a schedule of volunteer opportunities on its Web site or call 813 209-1000 for more information on how to help.

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:01:21]

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