Community shows ton Of generosity

Amy Huckaby, right, of the Village of Buttonwood, representing Clemson University, raises the first-place trophy for the food drive competition at Spanish Springs Town Square during the College Colors Day Funds For Food event.

Hundreds of Villagers sporting team jerseys, face paint and school spirit came out to Spanish Springs Town Square on Friday and celebrated the thousands of dollars raised through another successful College Colors Day event. The top three winners of the annual food drive, which is sponsored by Publix, were Clemson University with $12,359.25; Ohio State University with $10,027; and Penn State University with $9,439.51. The drive earned $46,307.76, which is an estimated 52,622.45 pounds, or 26.31 tons, of food to benefit local food pantries. Donations were accepted from Aug. 23-Sep. 2 by check, online or through a QR code in The Villages Daily Sun. All of the money will go to the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, Grace Tabernacle Church Food Pantry, Beyond the Walls and the Christian Food Pantry of Lady Lake.

The food drive began in 2012 with the collection of 8,200 pounds. Since then, residents have donated thousands of dollars every year to show overwhelming support for local charitable organizations providing food for families in the area.

This was the third year in a row that Clemson won the food drive, but the first time alumni could celebrate that victory in-person given the last two years’ events were canceled — due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and inclement weather in 2019.

The alumni expressed their school spirit by adding drum sets and colorful tutus to their march around the square.

Bob Bienvenue, a member of the Clemson Fan Club, said College Colors Day is a good time to get everyone together in the party spirit. He was glad to finally have all his friends outside to celebrate, especially since charitable giving is in the Clemson nature.

“Giving is something built into the culture of the school,” Bienvenue said. “Giving back to the needy in the community is just something we do.”

Donna Fenster, publicity chairman for the Tri-County OSU Alumni Club, enjoyed the option of donating money virtually opposed to physical cans of food.

“It’s going to a good cause,” Fenster said about the food drive. “I think in the end, online donations make more money so I’m glad for the change.”

Members of various clubs were on the square as early as 7 a.m. to decorate their tents and cheer for their teams. As Villagers, families and children weaved around the different tents and booths, David Penkunas, membership chairman of the Penn State Club, reflected on how his group’s donations have increased every year to help local food pantries.

“We’re just a giving club,” Penkunas said. “We like to help out the community.”

Liz Newman, of the University of Alabama, wore her university’s logo on a headband styled like Mickey Mouse ears. She attended the event with her husband, Randy, to meet other alumni and celebrate the success of the food drive.

“(College Colors Day) is very nice,” Liz Newman said after yelling a heartfelt “Roll tide!” to a passing alumnus. “Everyone wants to give.”

Though this year’s food drive did not raise as much money as last year, it still donated thousands of dollars to local charities.

Chelsea McLain, marketing and magazine manager of The Villages Media Group and coordinator of the drive, announced the winners and said the event helps many people. She said she is also glad residents show up for it every year with their enthusiasm and donations.

“I feel very blessed to be part of this event,” McLain said. “I say it every year, but it is incredible to watch so many people come together for such a great cause. I’ve been able to watch this thing grow over the years, and it truly is amazing.”

Honorable mentions in the food drive went to Michigan State University with $2,850; Florida State University with $1,040; United States Military Academy with $890; Texas A&M with $825; University of Florida with $815; and the University of Iowa with $785.

Staff Writer Rachel Stamford can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or rachel.stamford@thevillagesmedia.com.