Free turkeys lure hundreds facing economic struggles
TAMPA - Vincent Vazquez held the frozen bird in his left hand and smiled. "I came out here at 20 minutes to 4," said Vazquez, 83, who retired from a life of cutting grass, carpentry and odd jobs and needs some help living on a fixed income. Vazquez was the first of hundreds who showed up for Tampa lawyer Lou Pendas' turkey giveaway. Pendas, saying he is blessed and wants to give back to the community, stockpiled 1,000 birds - providing one per family - at his law office at 816 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.Pendas said he came up with the idea 18 months ago because he had so many clients who could not afford necessities. His first turkey giveaway took place last year at his Orlando office. People there started lining up by 4 a.m., and the line stretched for a half-mile, he said. Today's offer was good for anyone wanting a turkey, and although no proof of need was required, Pendas was hoping people followed the honor system. "We are going to assume that if they're here, they are really in need of a free turkey," Pendas said. "We are hoping that people that can go out to Publix and buy a turkey will not be in this line." For people such as Rosa Colon, 60, the need this year is greater than last. "The economy is terrible," she said. "My son lost his job, and I am helping him out, but I am on a fixed income," she said. Last year, Rosa said she had chicken on Thanksgiving. "This is a wonderful program," she said. Nine hours after the event at Pendas' law office, Revealing Truth Ministries also donated 1,000 turkeys at its church, 5201 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa. Families and individuals started to line up at noon. By 4 p.m., there were 300 vehicles in the church's parking lot. Along with the turkey, the church was donating a basket containing stuffing, yams, corn, green beans, cake mix and frosting. "We want to be considered a place of hope, a place of refuge for these families," said Tina Bivins, a church spokeswoman. "We just want to be a resource, a blessing for these families."
Reporters Chip Osowski and José Patiño Girona contributed to this report.