The Margate-Coconut Creek Kiwanis Club has raised money and hosted events for children in the community for 45 years, and its president and soon-to-be lieutenant governor, John Francis, has memories for more than a quarter of them.

Though Francis has plenty of memories of helping children during his 16 years with the Kiwanis Club, there are a few standouts.
One is a memory from 10 years ago that launched the club’s backpack program, which works with Liberty Elementary School to provide six backpacks a week to help feed families in need. The project was born after Francis visited a day care in Margate and met a little boy who had food in his pockets.

“We went over and introduced ourselves and asked what he had in his pockets, and he said, ‘I have ’paghetti,’ which meant ‘spaghetti,’ ” Francis recalls. “We asked him why, and he simply replied, ‘Because I have nothing to eat on the weekends.’ ”

In their next meeting, Francis and the rest of the members immediately appropriated funds to fill brown paper bags with snacks to distribute once a month to the day care facility. After using brown paper bags for the first few years, the project progressed to offering backpacks instead to help bridge entire families with the food gap on weekends.

Other yearly projects include Shop with a Hero—a partnership between Kiwanis, Walmart and the Margate Police Department to provide a shopping spree to 100 children in need—and Christmas in July, which provides 1,500 homeless children with backpacks loaded with supplies.

During one Shop with a Hero event, Francis says a young girl was so excited to buy gifts for her brothers, sisters, mother and aunt that she forgot to get something for herself.

“In the end we made some adjustments for her and she was able to afford a little something for herself,” Francis says. “But it shows you how the children think about it. They think more about their families than they do themselves. It’s pretty incredible.”

This holiday season, the 45-year-old club is celebrating the 20th Christmas Tree Lot. In partnership with Hart-T-Tree Farms, a family-owned business, the Kiwanis club helps high school students in Key Clubs, and the tree farm donates some of its earnings to the club. Last year, singer Ariana Grande bought a tree from the lot.

“She was very happy with her purchase,” Francis says with a laugh.

The Hart-T-Tree Christmas Tree lot (1423 North, FL-7, Margate) is now open until trees are sold out (usually by Dec. 19 or 20). For information on joining, search for the Margate-Coconut Creek Kiwanis Club on Facebook.