By Mitch Traphagen
SOUTH COUNTY — Imagine having to decide between Christmas gifts for your children or paying the rent or the electric bill. Imagine having to decide between eating and even the smallest gift for your child.
In South Hillsborough, that scenario is all too real for some families. In some cases, jobs have been lost but they don’t meet the requirements for assistance, in other cases, people are just too proud to seek help for anything beyond the necessities in life. But that turns into a life lesson learned far too soon for the child of a family going through a rough patch.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies see it all. They see the good in life and the bad, and they are trained to remember and register the details. That is often to their detriment. Sometimes it must be hard to sleep at night after spending a shift seeing the worst that life can deliver. But they can wake up knowing they are doing everything they can to help.
Often that help goes beyond the bounds of their jobs. In late November, New York City police officer Lawrence DePrimo, on anti-terrorism duty in Times Square one bitterly cold night, encountered a barefoot homeless man lying on the sidewalk. DePrimo immediately ran into a nearby shoe store, bought the best quality boots the store had to offer, and gave them to the man. Officer DePrimo rose to fame because a tourist happened to photograph him giving the boots to the man. DePrimo sought no attention for himself but the photo became a worldwide sensation.
Law enforcement officers everywhere have similar stories of helping others. During the Republican National Convention in Tampa, sheriff’s deputies brought water and sandwiches to a camp of protestors. Deputies routinely provide gifts to needy children in schools and provide their time to community events. Giving is a big part of their life.
Donna Budd is one of the world’s most beautiful women. Certainly, that is a subjective standard but few could deny it upon meeting her. What is in her heart is so strong that it comes out for the world to see in not only her appearance but in her actions. For the past 30 years, Budd, a community service officer with the HCSO, has been running an organization called Deputies Darlins, a service organization where every dollar donated goes directly towards helping someone who needs it.
The recipients of that help are brought to Budd’s attention by deputies who notice families or children going without, by area churches, and sometimes by those who show up at her doorstep with their hats in hand and heads bowed down. Now it is Budd and Deputies Darlins that needs help. This past Christmas, they had hoped to provide gifts to 267 children, but there were only enough gifts for 195.
“Even after we gave all the gifts away, we were getting phone calls asking if we could help other families,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“These are good people,” she said of the recipients. “These are people who live here, were raised here, but sometimes their pride gets in the way. We want the kids to think that the gifts were from Santa so the parents come to get them. To see the parents…to see their tears…” Tears formed again in her eyes.
Local businesses and individuals throughout South Hillsborough have kept Deputies Darlins going throughout the years. But this year and last, when the supply of gifts was short and list of children in need was long, the International Independent Showmen’s Association in Gibsonton came through for Budd and dozens of children who woke up on Christmas morning to gifts. They thanked their parents or Santa, never knowing that it was the Showmen who turned out for them.
This past Christmas, with not nearly enough gifts, Budd’s son and son-in-law ran up to the Showmen’s Club on Gibsonton Drive and asked, during a meeting, if they could provide some last minute help. Purses and wallets opened on the spot and Deputies Darlins suddenly had $1,500 to buy more gifts.
The Showmen are masters of promotion but they rarely speak of the many good things they do for the community, from donating an enormous amount of time and money for the annual Gibsonton charity circus to collecting food for the needy, they are generous, yet quiet supporters of those in need in South Hillsborough.
Budd’s gratitude for the Showmen knows no bounds. She is also grateful to the Gold and Diamond Store of Clearwater for their last minute $1,000 donation. And she is particularly grateful to so many businesses and individuals here that donate only to help. None is hoping for publicity, they just want to help make this corner of the world a better place to be — particularly when it comes to children.
“We wouldn’t have this if it wasn’t for the community,” Budd said. “Sun City Center, Riverview, Ruskin, people all over have helped us. We couldn’t do this without them.”
But it is not just Christmas when people need help; the need is there year-around. The willingness and ability to extend a helping hand to someone in need says a lot about a community. For 30 years, Deputies Darlins has tried to keep the hearts of these communities beating, helping those who need help. And now it can be your chance because Deputies Darlins needs your help in working to make this a better place to live, simply by caring enough to make a difference for someone, your own neighbor, perhaps, going through a rough patch.
Donations to Deputies Darlins may be made at Fifth Third Bank in Ruskin, 1020 U.S. Highway 41, Ruskin, FL, 33570. A helping hand does indeed say a lot of good things about a community. Your help, perhaps even a few dollars, will say the same good things about you.