Show your spirit, generosity and college colors

Grace Tabernacle Church Food Pantry volunteers Joan DeFoe, of Leesburg, and Laura Lee, of the Village of Summerhill, bag food for clients at the church.

Food pantries are even more thankful for this year’s College Colors event as families seek help. Plans for this year’s College Colors Day are well underway, and beneficiaries from last year’s event are looking forward to seeing how the event plays out. This year’s event will run similar to 2020’s event, in which residents and their college teams donated money in place of food. From Aug. 23 through Sept. 2, donations can come in the form of credit card, check or debit card and can be donated using three methods. These methods include visiting thevillagesdailysun.com and following the secure links where donors can pick their college teams and make their donation, scanning the QR code from the ad placed in The Villages Daily Sun Newspaper using a mobile device or a writing a check made out to Abundant Life Ministries and attaching a check submission form found in the newspaper. The check and submission form can then be dropped off at a Citizen’s First Bank location in The Villages.

Publix will continue to help sponsor the event and donations from the event also will be split between four locations that have previously benefited from the event, including Beyond the Walls, Christian Food Pantry of Lady Lake, Grace Tabernacle and the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. Unlike last year, this year will feature a wrap-up party on the square in Spanish Springs in which residents and members of their teams can come together, dressed in their favorite sports wear, to celebrate the success of the event and announce the winners.

Chelsea McLain, marketing and magazine manager for The Villages Magazine, said the event was so successful last year, that they didn’t want to change a thing about this year’s event.

Last year’s College Colors event broke records, despite its alternate format, with more than 50 college fan clubs having donated money in support of their favorite college teams. The event brought in $48,312 — the equivalent of 54,900 pounds of food — over the course of two weeks. That money was then split to benefit the four local food pantries.

Earlier this year, Colleen Brooks, director of Beyond the Walls food pantry in Fruitland Park, and Kathy and Steve Brunner, directors of the food pantry at Grace Tabernacle Church in Wildwood, took money donated from the 2020 event to purchase new equipment for the pantries and help their clients.

Beyond the Walls used a portion of the money to purchase a new walk-in refrigerator and Grace Tabernacle Church bought a new walk-in freezer.

“Things at the food pantry are going great since we purchased and installed the new freezer,” said Kathy, a resident of Lake Panasoffkee. “Before we got the freezer, we could only give out about three things of meat. Now, we are able to give clients six, which can feed a family for a week.”

The food pantry is open from 10-11:45 a.m. every Tuesday and is located at 7279 Warm Springs Ave. in Wildwood. The food pantry is a ministry of Grace Tabernacle Church and has a mission of not only helping clients with physical needs but also their spiritual ones.

“The freezer has helped because we are now able to not only take in more meat but also rotate the meat,” Kathy said. “When we get new meat from the distributor, we are able to take the meat from the last time and move it forward so it gets used sooner than the new meat coming in.”

Brooks, of the Village Palo Alto, said the new fridge at Beyond the Walls is going to give clients visiting the pantry an option for healthier options of food, like local produce donated from Shared Harvest and The Villages Grown.

“We have all this produce that is being donated that we can now store in the fridge,” she said. “Before, we had to give out what we had, and we couldn’t take a lot of it because we weren’t able to keep it.”

Beyond the Walls, a ministry of Heritage Community Church, helps clients in need in Fruitland Park and the surrounding area. It is open from 10 a.m.-noon Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 609 W. Berckman St. in Fruitland Park. The food pantry shares the mission of Grace Tabernacle Church: to provide physical and spiritual nourishment to those in need.

“We like being able to give our clients more options that will help them receive all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need,” Brooks said. “We know they need some fresh produce in their diets to remain healthy and strong, and it’s great that we can help with that. Our clients have become like our family, and if we wouldn’t eat something, then we don’t expect our clients to either.”

In addition to helping the local families in the areas, the pantry also brings together other ministries to work with the clients. Abundance of Love, for example, provides clients with hats and scarves and other items they could use during the colder months.

“We just want to lend a hand to those in need,” said Jen Smith, community outreach coordinator for the club. “Beyond the Walls has been so opening and allowing us to get to know the clients. It feels wonderful to help those in need.”

Brooks said the College Colors event is wonderful because it helps the community.

“Villagers are so generous, and College Colors brings out the competition in others,” she said. “It’s always a fun event and the results are always outstanding.”

This year’s College Colors event will  end with a wrap-up party Sept. 3 during which residents are invited to wear their college colors at Spanish Springs Town Square. This is also when winners will be announced. Awards for “Best School Spirit” and “Most Spirited Costume” will be announced at the party as well.

A photo taken at 7 p.m. on the Spanish Springs Town Square will be taken by a drone to show off this year’s participation.

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