Spirited fans show tons of generosity

Debbie Smith, of the Village of Charlotte, helped The Villages Chapter of the Central Florida Clemson Club win this year’s College Colors Day title by dropping off food at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen.

Mother Nature may have forced the cancellation of Friday’s College Colors Day event, but it could not dampen the impact Villages residents made on others during the annual College Colors Day Food Drive. The drive produced an event-record 43,049.9 pounds of food for four food pantries in the area — the Christian Food Pantry, Wildwood Soup Kitchen, Grace Tabernacle Food Pantry and Love INC of the Heart of Florida — thanks largely to the more than 50 college fan clubs that made donations over the past two weeks. During the drive, club members delivered donated food to longtime event sponsor Bealls, specifically the locations in The Villages and Lady Lake.

“Every year, I’m amazed at how big this thing gets,” said Chelsea McLain, marketing and magazine manager of The Villages Media Group and coordinator of the drive. “I thought last year, we would be done with that 40,000 (pounds). I had no idea that it would be bigger than that, and it’s absolutely incredible.”

Kathy Brunner who, along with her husband Steve, manages Grace Tabernacle Food Pantry, counted all the food collected by the College Colors Food Drive as a huge success.

“We’re still sorting through four to five thousand pounds easy,” Kathy said.

Carrol Neal, director of Christian Food Pantry, said the timing of the food drive was perfect, as the pantry served almost 400 families in August. The food received should last the pantry through September and into early October.

Since the food drive debuted in 2012, people have donated more than 156,000 pounds of food to area pantries.

Clubs once again competed against one another with the hopes of donating the largest amount of food. This year, that title belongs to The Villages Chapter of the Central Florida Clemson Club, which contributed 13,775 pounds of food and won for the first time.

“It is just — it’s unbelievable,” said Amy Huckaby, leader of the chapter and a Village of Buttonwood resident. “We worked hard — the whole club worked hard for this. We are happy about that, but we were excited for the whole (College Colors Day event) — we had all kinds of things planned.”

Fortunately for Ken Holliday, who helped organize the Clemson club’s food drive along with Debbie Smith, there were still plenty of reasons — thousands, for that matter — to smile on Friday.

“It’s just a summation of a lot of efforts and just working with a lot of very generous people,” said Holliday, of the Village of Charlotte. “The fun part was, we did a lot with the (Wildwood) Soup Kitchen.”

Not far behind Clemson, the Penn State Tri-County Chapter of Central Florida donated 12,413.5 pounds of food — an increase of nearly 4,000 pounds from a year ago — to place second in the standings for the second consecutive year.

“Last year, we raised 8,800 (pounds) or somewhere around there, and my goal when I told the group we were going to try do a little better was 10,000 pounds — and we did 12,000,” said Patrick Detterbeck, food drive coordinator for the Penn State club and a Village of Dunedin resident

Placing third was the UConn Sports Club of The Villages, which tallied 3,322 pounds.

“I’m almost speechless,” said Wendell Goldsmith, president of the UConn Sports Club. “Our numbers weren’t quite as high as they were last year, but evidently everybody came through for us, so it’s good.”

With the help of dozens of fan clubs, the 2019 food drive total eclipsed last year’s mark (40,493 pounds) by nearly 3,000 pounds and the 2017 mark by almost 30,000 pounds.

Donna Slider, director of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, said she appreciates all the clubs did for the collection.

“This was our biggest year yet,” Slider said, “and I feel that college clubs and fans did a lot of hard work, and we’re so grateful that they helped fill our shelves.”

McLain said she was disappointed to have the College Colors Day festivities washed out Friday, but considering how prepared and excited residents get for the event, she was pleased with the end result of the food drive.

Senior Writer Tyler Breaman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5226, or tyler.breaman@thevillagesmedia.com.