FELLSMERE – More than a thousand families gathered at Operation Hope in Fellsmere for a little Christmas cheer, food and toys.
“Look at this,” Operation Hope’s Jesse Zermeno said, scanning the throngs of people. “It’s wonderful. It’s awesome.” With the help of various organizations, including Toys For Tots, American Veterans of Vero Beach, and the Presbyterian Church of Vero Beach, Operation Hope volunteers were able to hand out thousands of toys, hundreds of turkeys and chickens, cakes, oranges and other food items to those in need.
“It really helps,” recipient Elizabeth Cepeda said of being able to take home some food and toys for her 4-year-old daughter, Amiyah.
Given the economy, Cepeda’s finances are “kind of tight” this time of year, but she wants to provide a nice Christmas for her family.
Valorie Gomes finds her family in a similar situation. Her husband has been in and out of work numerous times. They’ve gone through their savings trying to stay afloat, she said, adding that food pantries have been the reason they’ve been able to keep food on the table.
“We really don’t know where to go,” Gomes said.
As a mid-income family, they never expected to deal with the challenges they are now facing.
Gomes came out to Operation Hope in hopes of getting some toys for her two children to supplement the couple gifts left over from last year.
“They don’t need a lot,” she said, “but they need something.”
Seeing the good that organizations such as Operation Hope and food pantries provide, Gomes said that when her family’s situation turns around, they will be giving back to those who helped them.
“There’s a lot of good people” who are helping, she said.
Brevard County Judge Robert Burger, who sits on Operation Hope’s Board of Directors, said that this event might be the only opportunity for some of the children to get a present this year.
“It’s always very touching,” he said of seeing the joy on the kids’ faces. It’s “absolutely priceless.”
Operation Hope helps families throughout the year, offering food and clothing assistance, providing school supplies and backpacks and other help.
The non-profit organization is located at 12285 County Road 512 and its office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.