Area businesses help brighten the holidays

Parady Financial Group’s director of events Linda Bennett, left, and managing partner Cindy Reed sit with a small mountain of stuffed animals at the financial services firm’s Colony Plaza office.

Greg Parady’s children came up with the idea to collect stuffed animals for children this year because they didn’t want anyone to be scared and lonely for the holidays. For the first time this year, the Parady Financial Group CEO’s company collected stuffed animals from Dec. 3 to Christmas. About 350 to 400 stuffed toys went to Florida SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies) Chapter, the Salvation Army in Leesburg, Mount Dora Fire Department and to children and family shelters in Lake and Orange counties. Parady Financial Group joined the list of retailers, companies and restaurants in and around The Villages that have donated to charities and organizations to help those in need during the holidays. Other examples include Galaxy Home Solutions, the Fresh Made Kitchen restaurant group, several retailers in Spanish Springs, Citizens First Bank, Glenview Country Club and Redsauce.

Parady Financial Group also collected coats and sweaters this month to donate to several local schools and other organizations.

“We just feel it’s an important time of year where people don’t have the means to help themselves,” said Cindy Reed, managing partner at Parady Financial Group. “We feel it’s more important to give than to get.”

About 1,200 coats were donated between Thanksgiving and Dec. 13, and filled the lobby of Parady’s office.

Coats were given to students at Fruitland Park Elementary, Villages Elementary of Lady Lake, Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School and Wildwood Elementary School. About 250 of the coats collected were sent to the Support Our Soldiers organization.

Many other local businesses also are spreading happiness this holiday season by giving back.

This year, Galaxy Home Solutions in Wildwood collected 132 bikes and distributed them on Dec. 21 at the company’s location on a first-come, first-served basis.

Galaxy’s owner Steve Munz didn’t have a lot growing up.

As he has gotten older, he said has made a point to give back to his community during the holidays, especially to children who don’t have much like he did.

“I like to see people happy,” Munz said.

For more than 10 years, Munz has donated bikes to those in need through his company.

This year Munz received bikes from his employees, Toys for Tots and the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office collects bikes from Villagers, and with the help of The Village Bicycle Club, has them refurbished and gave some of them to Munz.

 “It’s just to spread happiness (and) try to take care of those who are less fortunate,” Munz said.

He said the distribution day was incredible seeing so many kids’ faces happy after getting a bike.

“It was really good, really touching,” he said. “It just feels good to give back to the community. We just like doing our part.”

Munz also gave out 200 meals, which could feed about six people, along with the bikes. The meals, which were funded by Munz, included ham, green beans, corn, potatoes, rolls and a pie.

Munz also does something for kids in need on his own.

After opening presents with his family on Christmas Day, Munz, his kids and other family members loaded up 11 bikes and drove around Sumter County to hand out seven of the bikes to kids Munz felt needed them.

“I believe in giving back,” he said.

Brylah Fashions, Kilwins, Bermuda Bay Clothing and King’s Gallery in Spanish Springs worked together to help out students at Wildwood Elementary for the holiday season.

Earlier in December, an angel tree with about 50 tags on it was inside Kilwins. People could go in, grab a tag, purchase the wish list item on the tag and drop it back off at Kilwins. All tags were taken and some items purchased for students included hooded sweatshirts, jackets, Xbox games, shampoo and conditioner, and Lego sets.

On Dec. 8, all items donated were collected by Village of Gilchrist resident Faye Scher, who volunteers at Wildwood Elementary, and taken to the kids.

The four stores also donated 10% of every before-tax sale made from noon to 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 to be used to buy uniforms and coats for the students at the school.

“We were so pleased the kids were able to get so many wonderful things this year,” Scher said. “It was just so lovely to see so many people want to help the kids.”

Citizens First Bank had been raising money since the beginning of the year to donate to the Haven of Lake and Sumter Counties before Christmas.

The bank branches raised $19,500 through candy sales, book sales, pumpkin-decorating contests, chance drawings, employee breakfasts and lunches, bake sales and through proceeds made from basket drawings during an annual dinner for the ladies of Citizens First Bank, said Michelle Crawford, vice president marketing and administration officer.

Since the beginning of November, the 11 bank branches also have been sites for people to drop off unwrapped gifts for Toys for Tots.

Representatives from the organization visited branches several times to pick up toys before the final pickup. So many donations were being made that the boxes were filling up quickly, Crawford said.

“It’s very heartwarming to work in a community where the employees and the residents are just so generous,” she said.

The Fresh Made Kitchen restaurant group, which includes Bonifay Country Club, Belle Glade Country Club, Bluefin Grill and Bar, Scooples Ice Cream Parlor and other Villages restaurants, held a gift drive to support hospitality employees and their families.

More than 1,000 gifts were donated to the fourth annual Stock the Stockings Toy Drive, which was organized by Dennis Spillane, one of the bartenders at Bonifay Country Club, according to a news release from FMK.

People came to Bonifay on Dec. 19 to pick out gifts for their children, which included bicycles, sports equipment, games, books and stuffed animals.

“It went over wonderfully,” Spillane said. “There were over 100 kids who got toys and bikes because of us.”

The remaining items were donated to a women’s battered shelter in Leesburg, he said.

T&D Concrete partnered with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office to donate hams to people in need in the Sumter County area for the holidays.

This year, the company collected 150 hams and they were distributed by the sheriff’s office on Dec. 20, said Terry Yoder, chairman and CEO of T&D Concrete.

The company has been donating hams for the holidays for the past 20 years.

“It just makes me feel good to give back to the community that has been so good to T&D,” Yoder said. “That’s why I’ve done it for 20 years, and I’ll continue to do it because I’ve been the most blessed man in the world and I believe that when you give it will come back 10-times told.”

The owners of Glenview Country Club and Redsauce launched two initiatives to give back to charities and organizations for the holidays.

From Dec. 1 until Christmas, servers asked guests if they would like to “round up their bill” to the next dollar or donate a portion of money to go toward St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Even if the bill was $12.50 and they give 50 cents extra, it makes a huge difference,” said Jack Suleiman, owner of Redsauce and Glenview Country Club.

This is the fourth year Suleiman has done this and has raised about $15,000 for the hospital.

Pastor Dave Houck, founder and CEO of Help Agency, the nonprofit in the Ocala National Forest that runs SoZo Kids, gives Suleiman a list of items the kids want.

For the past six years, Suleiman has bought gifts and hosted a Christmas event at one of the SoZo Kids centers where the kids get the gifts and a meal with dessert.

This year, Suleiman hosted the dinner and gift exchange on Dec. 10 and 11.

Suleiman started both initiatives at his restaurants. He started “round up your bill” after meeting a girl who had cancer a few years ago while she ate at Redsauce with her family and has kept in close contact with all of them.

He started donating to SoZo Kids after meeting some of the kids and seeing their needs.

“It’s the season of giving, so you’ve got to give from your heart,” he said.

Staff writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or