Community comes together to help others

Judy Schober, of the Village of Pinellas, is leading the annual Girl Scouts Alumnae Silver Trefoil Group of The Villages’ pajama and book drive.

Judy Kohn sat with three other women, enjoying the nice breeze and the light conversation, as they waited for the next donation to come.

The Village of Silver Lake resident was thrilled her group, stationed at Paradise Regional Recreation Complex, had collected over 100 pounds of food already during the collaborative Lions Clubs food drive Thursday.

Just like the Lions Clubs, local groups throughout The Villages are holding a variety of seasonal drives to help collect items. The groups are collecting food, toys, pajamas, books, school supplies and pet food to be distributed through the tri-county area to help local children, families and pets in need. As each groups shares a common goal of bringing the community together to help others, The Villages shows more of its giving spirit.

Garrett Burke, the council's chair for The Catholic Foundation of Central Florida, said there is a great need throughout communities in Central Florida, and they are working with experts throughout the region to help resolve some of those needs.

"Whether it's educating our youth, serving those in need, maintaining our places of worship or taking care of our senior leaders that dedicated their lives to nurturing our relationship with God, the financial needs of our Church and community are great," he said.

As members of both Lions Club gathered in the parking lots of regional recreation centers around The Villages on Thursday, they worked together to collect food and cash for four nonprofits.

"All the food will be given to Beyond The Walls Food Pantry in Fruitland Park and to LovExtension, a nonprofit in Tavares that helps elderly residents throughout Lake County," said Chuck LeGare, of the Village of Lake Deaton. "All the cash will be split between the Wildwood Food Pantry and Christian Food Pantry of Lady Lake."

As the two clubs had people stationed at recreation centers throughout The Villages, each group was thrilled each time they received a donation.

Mary Alice Phillips, of the Village of St. Charles, who was stationed at SeaBreeze Regional Recreation Complex, said her group had collected 100 pounds within the first hour at her location.

After the first hour, the truck from Beyond The Walls arrived at SeaBreeze Recreation Complex, and the three volunteers began collecting food and loading the truck as they waited for the other stationed groups to bring what they collected.

In addition to the food drive held by both Lions Clubs, the Orange Blossom Gardens (OBG) Lions Club will host a Kids Day event from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the Lady Lake Bob Johnson Legacy Driving Range at 230 Rolling Acres Road in Lady Lake, where not only are they teaching children how to play golf, but they also will be collecting pet supplies for the Lake County Animal Control.

"The Lake County Animal Control needs help with additional pet food and supplies," said OBG Lion Member Laurie Blum, of the Village Del Mar. "This organization is really important because when people pass away or are unable to take care of their pets, they wind up with Animal Control. It's really sad to see the abundance of pets they have received lately."

The group made plans for the collection when they heard the organization had more animals than for which it originally planned.

"They are looking for wet and dry food for all ages," she said. "We know times are tough, and so we are thankful for the opportunity to lend a hand and get the community involved. We know it's asking a lot with our latest drive, but the animals also need our helping hands."

But pet food isn't the only thing that is needed.

Throughout The Villages, two local groups also are collecting school supplies for local school students in need. The Evening Rotary Club of The Villages is collecting school supplies in collection boxes inside six locations until Monday. Collection boxes can be found inside Savannah Center; El Santiago and Chula Vista recreation centers; and Mulberry Grove, Paradise and La Hacienda recreation complexes during normal business hours.

All supplies collected will be divided and distributed between Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School in Weirsdale and Harbour View Elementary School in Belleview.

"We knew schools were in desperate need for school supplies, and we have a great partnership with these schools," said Julie Schmied, president of The Evening Rotary Club of The Villages and a Village De La Vista resident.

And the Evening Rotary Club isn't the only club collecting school supplies. DeSoto For Non-Profits also is holding a drive.

"We knew that Leesburg Elementary School needed help with school and cleaning supplies," said Jeanne Furlani, of the Village of Fenney and co-president of the group. "As children go back to school in the middle of this pandemic, they need extra supplies to help keep them safe (and) to do their work."

All supplies dropped off during the DeSoto For Non-Profits drive, from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Ednas' on the Green, will receive 10% off of food and drinks at Ednas' trucks throughout the day.

Upcoming drives in The Villages this fall include The Girl Scouts Alumnae Silver Trefoil Group of The Villages's annual pajama and book drive for homeless children throughout the tri-county area, which begins in October but has started collecting from those who reach out.

"We will have collection boxes throughout all regional recreation centers from October through December," said Judy Schober, of the Village of Pinellas and leader of this drive. "We need clothes of all ages, including adults, because we have children of all sizes receiving the clothes and books."

As another way to help children in need, The Starlight Players will host its annual Toys for Tots and Helmet Drive at the Winn-Dixie in Lake Sumter Landing.

"We don't have a lot of the information yet, but we know children need more help than ever and what a great way to give back," said Theresa Kress, who will lead this drive. "Each year, Toys for Tots grows and has a great response. We can't wait to get the community involved and see how we can make a difference."

These seasonal drives make on truth clear - it's always giving season in The Villages.

Senior writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or andrea.davis@thevillagesmedia.com.