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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Family spends months preparing to help others on Christmas

TAMPA - For Christine Gwilt and her family, Christmas morning wasn't exactly traditional. They woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday and headed from their Odessa home to Metropolitan Ministries to bring gifts to the children living at the organization's housing. "They impact our lives," Gwilt said. "When you get your teenagers to wake up at 4 in the morning and come out and do this, they're making a difference in our lives." Some of the gifts went to Todd McKeovey's children. He woke up Sunday morning without gifts to give, but by the end of the day, his young children had plenty of toys and wide smiles.
"I didn't know what was going to happen today," McKeovey said. "I just wasn't able to do anything." "I'm just really grateful that there's actually people out there that would do something like that for others that are a little down on their luck this time of year," McKeovey said. McKeovey and his children are one of 43 families residing at Metropolitan Ministries, 2002 N. Florida Ave. Gwilt and her family start preparing in January to help the families at Metropolitan Ministries. They buy toys for children, getting help from friends and schools. By the end of the year, their garage and storage unit are filled with toys. This year they collected more than 700 gifts. "It's amazing," Gwilt said. "If you put the word out there, so many people want to help and they don't know how. People just heard what I was doing and the next thing you know I got donations from people I didn't even know. Gwilt started the program, which she hasn't named, three years ago, while she was volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries. "It's priceless," Gwilt said. "There's no words to explain how much fun it is down here. It's truly the meaning of Christmas when you're down here." Since she started, the need has increased each year and getting donations has become more challenging, she said. "People aren't getting bonuses, people don't have that extra money," Gwilt said. "They help out, but it's a little harder. So you need more and more people every year to fulfill a need like this." Before Gwilt and her family started to help, Metropolitan Ministries offered a more modest Christmas to their residents, said Tim Marks, the organization's president. "It's a great love affair that they have for these families and for the children that we have here," Marks said.

News Channel 8 photo journalist Indira LeVine contributed to this report. jpatino@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7659
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