PORT RICHEY — Things were going OK for David Fitzgerald.
Then one day a few years ago he got a headache.
It was a cerebral hemorrhage and his life went into a back-slide. Ernesto Gordon makes only enough on disability to pay his bills, and there’s not much left for food.
Both men were among more than 400 who came to the free Volunteer Way-sponsored Thanksgiving meal at the Columbian Event Center in Port Richey on Nov. 23. It was the sixth year of the charitable event, which began when then-Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri wanted to do something around the holidays for those in need.
Cliff Gill, a Pasco County employee at the time, helped with the thanksgiving dinner project, and now as marketing coordinator with the New Port Richey-based food charity Volunteer Way, he’s its chief organizer.
The organization helps the homeless and those in need all year, but the Thanksgiving meal is special because it brings so many people together, said Gill. This year two buses donated by Pasco County and one from the Joining Hands Ministry carried people from several shelters and church locations in West Pasco to the dining hall just off U.S. 19, south of Ridge Road.
“They need more than food; they need fellowship, too,” said Gill. “That’s what is great about this.”
The turkey dinners with all the trimmings were 100 percent paid for through donations, said Gill, as were the many items spread on tables those attending were welcome to take with them: clothing, non-perishable food and personal hygiene products.
Gordon enjoyed his meal and said he was thankful for the dinner, as the food was something he would not have been able to afford this Thanksgiving. He added that he’s even happier that “people who need it more than I do” got to partake.
“There are homeless people who really need it the most,” he said. “It’s good because they get some good food and they get to be with other people on the holidays.”
Fitzgerald, in good spirits, cracked jokes as he dined on turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
“It’s great, but I can’t afford the food here,” he said of the free meal. “No, it’s a really very nice thing–very altruistic of them to put this on for us.”
Pam Paone, a volunteer for the event since it started, said the homeless problem in West Pasco is worse than most people realize.
“It’s bad, pretty bad,” she said. “I love Pasco County and a lot of people need our help, so I give a helping hand.”
Homelessness can be a difficult thing to overcome for many, she said, adding that unfortunately, some of the faces at last Friday’s dinner were among those she remembers from last Thanksgiving.
Gill said about 300 of those who enjoyed the turkey dinners were homeless, with the rest unemployed, under employed or otherwise struggling. He said about 100 volunteers were on hand for the event, including schoolchildren who not only helped but got to see firsthand how they can make a difference in the lives of those in need.
Anyone interested in donating of volunteering can log onto www.thevolunteerway.org.