Parents and students of the Student Leadership Academy in Venice presented a check for $1,575 and $600 worth of perishables and non perishables recently to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Chief Petty Officer Zachary Gray at the Cortez station in Bradenton.

It coincided with the day Coast Guard employees received their back pay for working through the month-long government shutdown throughout January, while Congress and President Trump were unable to agree upon a plan for southern border security.

Tommye Whittaker, mother of twins at the middle school whose son is a retired Coast Guardsman, came up with the fundraiser idea after learning Department of Defense personnel, including the Coast Guard, temporarily weren’t being paid but were still required to work.

She said it was “gravely affecting young families,” and contacted the nonprofit Chief Petty Officers Association, Suncoast Chapter, to learn how to help.

The Coast Guard is funneling most contributions through the Chief Petty Officers Association, a nonprofit support group for the Coast Guard, to ensure what’s distributed to workers in the region is fair.

“SLA takes being a good community member very seriously. We’re up for the new challenge of giving back to the men and women of the Coast Guard,” she said.

They manned tables outside the Island Publix Supermarket on Jan. 27 to solicit food and contributions. In seven hours the SLA accomplished their mission.

“My husband and I were there the entire day, as were other parents and several adult volunteers headed up by Coast Guard Auxiliary Captain Roy Lee of Venice. It was an amazing effort and (shows) the great generosity of the community,” Whittaker said.

“I took it all up to Cortez on Monday, Jan. 28, the first day they were to get their backpay. Really a positive story brought on by necessity,” she said.

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