Generosity During Giving Season Has Huge Impact - The Villages Daily Sun: News

Generosity During Giving Season Has Huge Impact

By Patricia Steele and Leah Schwarting, Daily Sun Senior Writers | Posted: Friday, December 29, 2017 8:00 am

Benevolent, altruistic, charitable, noble, big-hearted and generous are all apt descriptions of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Lake, Marion and Sumter residents that recognized a need and took action to fill it during the Christmas season.

Villagers gave at recreation centers to make sure children had gifts at Christmas. They supported local families in need through their churches, clubs and organizations. They donated bicycles, toys and money to law enforcement to make the season brighter for children.

In the Ocala National Forest, families received food and gifts. In Lake Panasoffkee, businesses and law enforcement came together to share prepared turkey dinners with more than 100 families. In Bushnell, law enforcement and numerous service organizations gave bicycles, Christmas trees and decorations to families.

The list of activities designed to help others is long — too long to list, but below is a partial snapshot of efforts taken to assist families during the holidays.

150 children

Members of the Amigos Sports Club collected money to purchase and wrap gifts for 150 students from Wildwood Elementary School. This annual “Adopt a Family” event brings the community together to help others. The efforts, which started in October, included financial contributions from club members and the community. In the end, about 70 volunteers spent about $110 on each of the 150 children. Parents picked up the wrapped gifts Dec. 13 at the school.


Tri-county children attended four Shop With A Cop events this year, three involving sheriffs’ offices and the fourth brought together by the Leesburg, Lady Lake and Fruitland Park police departments. At each event, officers helped children shop for gifts with money raised by the department or given through grants and sponsorships, totaling around $21,060. The money ensured more than 400 children had something under their tree.


The Christian Food Pantry serves about 350 families a month. The pantry is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Pantry director Carrol Neal said through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays more than 25 organizations and about 30 individuals donated food and around $20,000 in cash. The donations allowed the pantry to ensure clients had special holiday meals.

7,850 meals

Volunteers with the Wildwood Soup Kitchen prepared, and served or delivered 7,850 meals during December. Donna Slider, the soup kitchen manager, said during December it wasn’t uncommon to have two or three clubs, groups or individuals bring food to the kitchen. She was sure at least 50 different groups donated to the kitchen to make sure everyone was fed during the holidays.

300 bicycles

The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Villages bicycle clubs worked together to collect around 300 bicycles. On Dec. 1, bicycle club members and other volunteers gathered at the Lake Miona Recreation Center to wash donated bicycles, as well as do minor repairs to ensure they were in good condition. The bicycles were then delivered to six different locations for distribution.

2,500 families

The Col. Phillip C. DeLong Marine Corps League Detachment 1267 Toys for Tots Campaign collected toys for 2,500 families. Volunteers estimate the average family has three children and each children gets three gifts. These numbers mean volunteers had to collect 22,500 toys or raise money to purchase the gifts. Numerous clubs and organizations held more than 40 events to collect money, and toys and dozens of collection boxes were filled by generous people helping others in need.

520 children

For 25 years, Marion County Fire Rescue has mobilized to ensure county children don’t go without Christmas gifts with the Holiday Helpers Drive. In a year where many families are still hurting from Hurricane Irma, MCFR stations acted as drop points for toys and monetary donations. Some stations also adopted families, ultimately helping 520 children. 

463 families

The Wildwood Food Pantry provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to hundreds of people thanks to the generosity of individuals, clubs and organizations. These donations of food and money allowed the pantry to give turkeys for both holidays. In addition, the regular first and third Friday distribution provided meals beyond the holidays. The pantry provides food to qualified families living in north Sumter County.

116 turkeys

On Dec. 23, 116 turkeys, along with all the trimmings, were delivered to homes from Oxford to Webster as part of Turkeys From Heaven. It was the first year the nonprofit came to Sumter County, supported by the county’s chamber of commerce and sheriff’s office. It was a successful year, according to Jessica Kelly, chamber administrator, and plans are underway for a repeat performance in 2018.

445 children

The St. Vincent de Paul Society works with families regularly throughout the year providing help with food and financial assistance, but during the holidays Peg and Fred Harrop coordinate a program to make sure the children have gifts. This year they served 171 clients with the Christmas Tree Giving Program. Tags with names and wish lists were placed on a tree in St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church, and hundreds of parishioners provided the gifts for the children.

6,000 presents

The Help Agency, which includes SoZo Kids and the Turning Point Mentor Centers, serves low-income families in rural Marion County in and near the Ocala National Forest. Thanks to the dozens of churches, clubs, and organizations that assisted David Houck and his family through their mission to serve those in need, the organization was able to provide Christmas gifts for 1,300 children. They also were able to provided 500 families with full ham dinners.

2,500 children

The Salvation Army of Lake and Sumter Counties served approximately 1,100 families in both counties over the holidays. Through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program they provided gifts for about 2,500 children. The Angel Trees were placed in 40 locations in Lake and Sumter counties. In addition, paid and volunteer bell ringers with the Red Kettle Campaign worked until Dec. 23 collecting donations to fund programs in 2018.

75 seniors

Operation Homebound and the congregation at North Lake Presbyterian Church made Christmas brighter for its clients with its annual giving tree, which allowed congregation members to buy gifts for 75 local homebound seniors. Gifts were delivered to clients around Dec. 18. On Christmas morning, volunteers prepared and delivered hot Christmas dinners to 183 clients. Volunteer cooks and drivers look forward to working on Christmas Day, said Operation Homebound director Vickie Ruddell.

600 pounds of hygiene items

Marion County government agencies came together for Bring the Harvest Home, a food and hygiene items drive that culminated on Dec. 8. In addition to an estimated 600 pounds of hygiene items, the drive also collected more than 10,000 pounds of food. The donated items went to The Salvation Army, Brother’s Keeper and Interfaith Emergency Services.

100 party guests

On Dec. 8, 100 Marion County children came to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for a holiday party, complete with high school choir and band students providing music. Children received toys, as well as tours of emergency equipment by the sheriff’s office and Marion County Fire Rescue. Party-goers enjoyed a magic show and face painting, and visited with Santa Claus.

425 children

The Angels of The Villages program is sponsored by The Villages Recreation and Parks Department and has served foster parents for more than 20 years. Agencies that serve foster children can submit the wish lists of children several weeks before Christmas and the angel tags are placed in a number of recreation centers. This year, recreation center staff and Villagers provided Christmas gifts for at least 425 children living in foster care in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.

Patricia Steele is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5387, or Leah Schwarting is a senior writer with the Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5375 or