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Friday, September 30, 2022
<p>David Bocarando, a 22-year-old Big O Amusements employee, runs the Jitterbug ride at the Ohana Candy Cane Festival on Nov. 21, 2015. All profits from the festival went towards 100 Thanksgiving dinners for families in need.</p>

David Bocarando, a 22-year-old Big O Amusements employee, runs the Jitterbug ride at the Ohana Candy Cane Festival on Nov. 21, 2015. All profits from the festival went towards 100 Thanksgiving dinners for families in need.

Gerri Gerthe borrowed against her home to fund a festival.

The money, less than $4,000, went toward $1,000 in food, $800 for a ride at the festival, and equipment costs.

But she did it so the Ohana Candy Cane Festival in Ocala would be able to raise the money needed to feed 100 families on Thanksgiving. The festival, which ran from Thursday to Sunday, was hosted by Florida Kids Helping Kids, which Gerthe founded.

"I borrowed against my home to get it," she said. "It’s what makes these things run smoother."

Gerthe said last year 2,800 local kids were homeless — and 308 of those were sleeping outside. The festival, she said, was a chance to not only raise money for their Thanksgiving meal, but also help them have fun for a day.

"There’ll be a lot of kids here who wouldn’t get to come and have this festival," she said. "So, just coming out and being a part and sharing in the kids’ laughter and awe, it’s something that they will never forget."

As of press time, it is unclear how much was raised during the festival. But all of the funds will go toward feeding families and children during the holidays. Gerthe said the program is always looking for donations of food like protein shakes and peanut butter, items that can be bundled together to make meals.

"It’s not what I’m doing," she said. "It’s what the community does with us."

The Ohana Candy Cane Festival gave 21 children in Gerthe’s program the chance to run and develop the festival, helping other children their age get off the street. They even named the festival, choosing "ohana" from the movie "Lilo and Stitch" to represent family and "candy cane" because it is something festive and uplifting.

About 30 vendors set up shop around the festival grounds in support of Florida Kids Helping Kids.

"The title to me says it all," said Marylou Johnson, a Pop’s County Corn popcorn seller.

She said she thought it was awesome for people to care enough for their local homeless and needy children to do something about it.

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Rasmussen College software design freshman Tony Uglialoro, 18, has worked the festival three times by directing cars into parking spaces and filling in odd jobs because of the opportunity to help the children.

"I just want to see kids smile," he said.

Contact Danielle Veenstra at dveenstra@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @_Veenstra_

David Bocarando, a 22-year-old Big O Amusements employee, runs the Jitterbug ride at the Ohana Candy Cane Festival on Nov. 21, 2015. All profits from the festival went towards 100 Thanksgiving dinners for families in need.

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