From a sunrise service to a massive egg hunt, Easter service in Pinellas County brought lessons in hope and sharing to the masses on Sunday.
More than 500 braved cool temperatures and strong winds to participate in a sunrise church service at The Pier in St. Petersburg.
The 6:30 a.m. service, organized by a non-profit homeless shelter called the Resurrection House, has been a tradition for 25 years, said shelter CEO Cynthia Sinclair.
As the sky slowly turned from black to pink to clear blue, joggers and fishermen going about their morning routines stopped to hear Eckerd College Chaplain Doug McMahon tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
The crowd was much larger than when Rita Sage first attended the service about 20 years ago.
“We were few and far between to start with, especially since it’s a bit cold, but now you have to get here early or else there’s no place to sit down,” said Sage, who works at Eckerd College with McMahon.
McMahon’s message Sunday focused on recovering from losses -- the pastor has endured the loss of students, his father-in-law and even his dog Buddy this year.
“I’ve personally gone through a lot of loss and grief this year and our community is going through a lot of loss, be it foreclosures, depression, the economy, deaths,” McMahon said. “There are always a lot of people that are suffering in the community that we don’t always see, so we need to be mindful of that, practice mercy and find strength and hope in those losses that better days are ahead of us.”
It was a message that hit home for Robert Schofield, but also reminded him that joy can be found in even the worst circumstances. Just last year, Schofield was looking to Resurrection House for shelter. He was separated from his wife, fighting to keep his two teenage sons and looking for a job. Now, the former truck driver of 17 years is reunited with his wife, able to provide for his four children and working for the organization that saved his life.
“It’s easy to change your life from the outside, but you really have to change from the inside for it to stick. It’s like boot camp, you need someone to break you down,” Schofield said. “Resurrection House doesn’t force a religion on anybody, but faith is a big deal in getting your life back on track. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my faith.”
Later Sunday, about 7,000 children participated in an Easter egg hunt at Coachman Park in Clearwater sponsored by the Church of Scientology and the Clearwater Community Volunteers.
The event featured pony rides, bounce houses, magic shows and a petting zoo but the main attraction was 100,000 pieces of candy and 25,000 plastic eggs placed in a field.
Hidden behind tiger face paint, Jasmine Bonilla, 6, of Tampa, staked out a spot at the edge of the field nearly 45 minutes before the egg hunt began, said her father Jose Bonilla.
She had a clear strategy in mind.
“You got to get to the middle first and then grab,” she said.
It took the children, as well as a few over-eager parents that were promptly sprayed with water guns by volunteers, about 3 minutes to pick the field clean.
Volunteer Trish O’Hara was at the first egg hunt held by the group 21 years ago, when hard-boiled eggs were actually hidden throughout the park.
“Now we just leave them out in the open, so it’s more about speed then hunting,” O’Hara said. “It was much smaller then, but even our first year we had at least 100 kids.”
An Elvis impersonatora magic show and pre-filled goody bags helped comfort children who weren’t quite as fast as their peers.
But though sobbing and cries of, “I hate sharing,” that rang through the park after the egg hunt was over, 10-year-old Clearwater native Christian Nicoletto was all smiles.
Without being asked, Nicoletto was quick to fill the empty basket of a less fortunate girl fighting back tears with some of his surplus eggs. He wasn’t one of the 257 kids who found golden eggs and redeemed them for stuffed bunnies, but his haul was more than satisfactory.
“This year was awesome, so much better than last year,” he said. “I loved Elvis and I got tons of candy. There’s lots to share.”