They were awestruck.
That could explain why it was so quiet for several moments Monday at United Way of Northeast Florida headquarters when 30 families learned they would receive $1,000 in gift cards from the Harvey Bernhardt Foundation.
With financial assistance from the Deerwood Rotary Club, the foundation gave each family $500 gift cards from Publix Super Markets and Target.
In addition, the families will attend a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in January at Veterans Memorial Arena, compliments of the circus.
This year marks the fifth for the holiday gift card giveaway. The first year, just one family was helped. The second year, nine families received grocery and store cards. The number grew to 14 in the third year, and last year, 24.
The United Way and partner agencies Catholic Charities, Episcopal Children’s Services, Family Support Services, The Jay Fund and Jewish Family & Community Services selected this year’s families.
With $30,000 available to help parents and their children during the holidays, the foundation elected to bestow fewer, but larger gifts.
“Our focus is to make a really big difference in the family’s life,” said Monica Bernhardt, foundation executive director.
The foundation was established after the 2007 death of Dr. Harvey Bernhardt. He survived polio as a toddler, and later suffered post-polio syndrome, which put him in a wheelchair for the last years of his life.
“My father loved coaching basketball and trying to find ways to help people. He and I talked about starting a charity before he passed away,” Monica Bernhardt said. “We’re a big basketball family, so we know that sometimes, families just need an assist.”
The foundation on a year-round basis provides short-term financial assistance for people and families who have experienced medical issues and natural disasters or who are the victims of crime.
Many people helped by the foundation aren’t already receiving aid from social service or government agencies.
“We try to help people who don’t qualify for other aid. They can slip through the cracks,” said Bernhardt.
Foundation board Chairman Wes Bernhardt, who presented the gift cards to the families, said the organization’s goal is to continue to increase the number of families served by the holiday program.
“It grows every year. People are so generous,” he said.