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By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000

Christmas giveaway brings crowd, injuries

PENSACOLA -- A good-spirited church giveaway of $3-million worth of shoes, bicycles, groceries and even a car turned chaotic after about 43,000 people showed up to get some of the goods.

About 100 people were injured in the Saturday morning frenzy after the crowd filled the parking lot of the Miracle Faith Center then spilled onto the street, backing up traffic. No arrests were made.

The size of the event was a first for the church. Last year, it provided 3,500 meals to needy families.

"It's never taken place before," said Miracle Faith Center spokeswoman Judy Hogan.

Church members began spreading the word about their pre-Christmas giveaway during a Thanksgiving dinner last month. Since then, thousands of people registered for a chance at the free goods.

People waited in line for hours, some coming away with only canned food.

Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Lt. Pat Spears said that despite the injuries, large crowd and disrupted traffic, the event was mostly orderly.

Spears said that a permit is usually required to block lanes of traffic, but none was applied for. She also noted that next year's event, if it is a similar size, will need to be held at a fairground.

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