As he has for the past 39 years, Ray Bellamy is sending a message of neighborly love, along with boxes of food to fill the Thanksgiving tables of hundreds of struggling Manatee County families.
Bellamy, 74, called the Thanksgiving drive an example of community commitment and an opportunity for neighbors to learn about each other as human beings.
Tuesday’s event was at Lincoln Memorial Middle School, the same campus where Bellamy began making the transition from impoverished farm family to sports legend.
Bellamy, a three-sport star athlete for Lincoln Memorial High School in Palmetto in the 1960s and first Black football player at the University of Miami, also quoted former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at age 96.
“I believe that one of the most important things to learn in life is that you can make a difference in your community no matter who you are or where you live,” Carter once said.
For the past six years, Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells has partnered with Bellamy to help share Thanksgiving bounty with those who might go without.
This year, about 350 turkeys, along with stuffing, green beans and more were delivered to local families.
“There are a lot more turkeys this year. That’s good, but it’s also sad because it means that more families need help,” Wells said.
Kenneth Mays was one of those helping deliver meals this year.
“We are trying to take care of our seniors as best we can,” Mays said of the food boxes packed into his car intended for St. John Church members.
Bellamy challenged volunteers to step up even more next year.
“Bring one other person with you next year and let’s see how we can grow, how we can trust each other and help our community,” he said.