Thursday, November 23, 2006

Posted on Thu, Nov. 23, 2006

Home for the hungry

Herald Staff Writer
BRADENTON - Jamey-Lee and her little brother, Corbin, were off from school Wednesday and looking forward to today's Thanksgiving holiday.

Jamey-Lee, 7, who started at Ballard Elementary a week ago, spent Wednesday brushing the blond hair of her Barbie doll and showing off her new T-shirt, which showed young girl cartoon characters known as "The Three Amigos."

Corbin, 5, wearing a shirt with tiny, colorful dinosaurs on it, played endlessly with a brown-and-white stuffed bear that, for some reason unknown to everyone but him, he named James.

Melissa McCann, 26, the children's mom, who is six months' pregnant, smiled and took a deep breath.

"I think we have landed," McCann said.

McCann's small family is homeless and moved into the family lodge at The Salvation Army last week.

The Salvation Army provided the Barbie doll, the bear, Corbin's dinosaur shirt, Jamey-Lee's cartoon shirt and the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings that the family will enjoy with 500 to 600 other people today, their mom said.

For most of Manatee County, turkey is expected.

McCann said she no longer takes it for granted.

"I'm so happy that we will have a place to have Thanksgiving," she said. "It's been a tough few months."

The family has been homeless and living out of a suitcase since September, when McCann said she left a situation of domestic abuse that started eight years ago.

Without a car, she has been living in shelters and motels in Michigan, Sarasota and now Bradenton, getting some financial help from her mother in England.

"I can see the childhood is slowly returning to my kids," McCann said. "Corbin's temper fits are decreasing. He has separation anxiety."

McCann is completely estranged from other family members, she said.

"Wrong decisions," explained McCann, when asked to sum up how a pregnant woman with two children ended up homeless. "I am so thankful we are here now, that they took me in. My kids and I had a desperate need for a warm place."

Jamey-Lee is bright and sensitive.

She has to decide what to tell her classmates at Ballard when they start asking her where she lives.

"I think I will say, 'I don't know,' " she said.

She talks in a whisper about the last few months, but brightens up when asked about her interests.

"I love singing, all music, going to fairs, hanging out and talking," she said, proudly.

She also gets frustrated with Corbin, who has suddenly become afraid of the dark, she said.

"But you have to be his big sissy," McCann told her.

Asked what Thanksgiving meant to them, the children blurted out, "Turkey!"

Because people care

Jim McKee owned the Bridge Street Pier Cafe on the fishing pier of Bradenton Beach for 10 years.

Like many others, McKee, 63, was so busy making a living, he gave little thought to those who have no family or who are homeless.

But a few years ago, McKee took a look at his life and decided he needed to give back for the blessings he has had.

He accepted a job as kitchen manager at the Salvation Army last year, a position that has been life-changing, he said.

"I had no idea there was such a homeless problem in this county," McKee said. "I was amazed and I am still amazed."

Salvation Army officials estimate there are between 3,000 and 3,500 homeless people in Manatee County.

McKee had three fellow kitchen workers and 50 volunteers prepare and serve 75 turkeys, mounds of instant mashed potatoes and gravy, pounds of corn bread dressing, heaps of green beans and many pumpkin and cherry pies today to those who otherwise may have no other place to go for the holiday, McKee said.

"I'm older now and about to retire and this is all about giving back," he said. "I love it here. It's the greatest bunch of people I have ever been associated with. All they do is care about other people. They work themselves to death solely to help others."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at or 708-7907.

© 2006 Bradenton Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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