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A last-minute Christmas gift

A group of low-income children faced a dreary Christmas unless Gene Scott's friends stepped up. And did they ever.

[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
Santa Claus (Gene Scott) questions Tabatha Arline, 6, as she tells him that she hasn't received her present yet.

By KENT FISCHER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 21, 2001

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Nine days before the annual Christmas party, and Gene Scott was stuck.

For years, an informal network of friends and businesses have come through with gifts for Scott and the party he throws for needy kids in the Pine Hill neighborhood. But this year, the donations dried up.

Perhaps the sour economy had made giving tough, or maybe Scott's usual supporters found a new charity. Either way, the low-income children at the African-American Club of West Pasco faced a lean holiday if Scott couldn't quickly round up gifts.

Scott, an electrician in the school district's maintenance department, turned to his co-workers for help. Within days, bikes, watches, CD players and art supplies began piling up in the department's conference room. Then Scott started receiving money, more than $200 when the donations finally ceased.

Last weekend, secretary Dee Dee Biagi took the money and went shopping for more gifts. On Tuesday, department workers stayed late to wrap the gifts. On Wednesday night, Scott's kids got an early Christmas and a jolly holiday party.

"A lot of the guys (co-workers) don't know what I do," Scott said referring to the after-school club he has run for 11 years. "I was so overwhelmed by their response. There are a lot of great people who work here and the community isn't aware of all that they do."

Scott's co-workers at the maintenance department said they were glad to help, even on short notice. They admire the volunteer work that Scott does in Pine Hill, and that made it easy for them to open their hearts and wallets when he needed a boost.

"Most of the people in this department are men and they really stepped up to the plate," Biagi said, tears welling in her eyes. "I get choked up just talking about it. It's inspirational to me."

Scott founded the African-American Club in 1991 after realizing somebody had to offer a hand to kids in the impoverished neighborhood. Scott grew up there.

"I just want these kids to have as close to a normal life as possible," Scott said. "A lot of their parents aren't here, and I was really afraid that they wouldn't have a great Christmas."

Now, he's sure they will, and he might not have to worry about coming up short of gifts again. The maintenance department is going to make the Pine Hill party and gift drive its annual holiday cause, several workers said.

Scott's quiet, unassuming nature made it easy to pitch in, said secretary Barbara Laycock. In a letter to co-workers, Scott even apologized for asking for help.

"He's so humble, he didn't even want to ask," Laycock said. "I told him that next year, we'll start in October and do (the holiday party) up right."

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