Villagers show tons of virtual generosity

Charles Hyde, of the Village of Amelia, stocks shelves at the Lady Lake Christian Food Pantry. The pantry, along with others in the community, benefited from the College Colors Day Funds for Food drive.

The annual College Colors Day Funds for Food drive has shown residents’ competitive and generous spirits. Even with this year taking on a series of firsts — from going virtual and donating funds instead of food to having a new sponsor, Publix — the impact Villages residents have made again has exceeded expectations. The drive produced an event record of $48,312 donated, which converts to 54,900 pounds — 27.5 tons— of food to benefit four local food pantries: Beyond the Walls in Fruitland Park, Christian Food Pantry of Lady Lake, and Grace Tabernacle Church Food Pantry and the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, both in Wildwood. This is largely attributed to the more than 50 college fan clubs that made donations in the past two weeks. During the drive, club members made donations by dropping off checks to one of nine Citizens First Bank locations, donating online or by scanning a QR code with their tablet or smart phone.

“Every year, this event just gets bigger and bigger,” said Chelsea McLain, marketing and magazine manager of The Villages Media Group and coordinator of the drive. “The groups are so competitive, and it’s great to see them come together for such a good cause. They even reach out to alumni throughout the country in preparation for this event.”

Barb McManus, president of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, said the money raised from the event will help a lot of people in the community.

“It’s going to supply us with more food so we can help more people in need,” the Village of St. Charles resident said. “All the help we can get is appreciated, as we are all volunteers and there are so many people who need help. Ultimately, our goal is to help as many people as we can and make sure no one goes hungry.”

Kathy Brunner, who, along with her husband, Steve, manages Grace Tabernacle Church Food Pantry, said the money raised couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We really needed items, as food keeps flying off our shelves, so this really couldn’t have happened at a better time,” the Lake Panasoffkee resident said. “There are so many out of work, and they are turning to us for help. Without the help from the public, I don’t know what we would have done, but God definitely provides.”

Carrol Neal, director of Christian Food Pantry of Lady Lake, could not express enough thanks to the community.

“Thanks to all who have been so generous during this difficult time,” the Village of Mallory Square resident said. “Your donations from this event will help lots of local families in need. We know a lot of people have been struggling.”

When the food drive began in 2012, 8,000 pounds of food were collected. Each year continues to top the last with last year bringing in 43,050. This year brings in an increase of 11,850 pounds.

Each year, clubs compete against one another with the hopes of donating the largest amount, but this year it wasn’t about winning the trophies.

Although the title belongs to The Villages Chapter of the Central Florida Clemson Club, which contributed $8,827, or 10,030 pounds of food, members were more concerned about spending time together and helping others.

“This year we just wanted to give back,” said Amy Huckaby, leader of the chapter and a Village of Buttonwood resident. “It’s all about the food pantries this year and working together as a club.”

Not far behind Clemson, Ohio State University placed second, bringing in a donation of $8,505, or 9,665 pounds of food.

Placing third, behind Ohio State, was Penn State Tri-County Chapter of Central Florida. It brought in a total of $6,937.50, or a total of 7,883 pounds.

“It’s been interesting this year,” said Patrick Detterbeck, coordinator of the drive for Penn State. “This collection is going to do what it’s always done for the pantries — it’s going to help out, but this year it’s going to be a plus because it’s going to give them the choice to purchase what they need. The pantries are always delighted when we are able to lend a hand and this year is no different.”

Colleen Brooks, director of Beyond the Walls food pantry, said the organization is thankful to be part of this event.

“So many people have come to the pantry with tears in their eyes and are so thankful,” she said. “This is really going to help out.”

McLain said the money collected will make a huge impact on the community.

“The pantries and the soup kitchen have faced many challenges, and some of them are now doing home deliveries and pickup lines and we have all had to adjust,” she said. “I am thankful that I work in a community with so many great people who understand the importance of this event and were willing to help us figure out a way to keep everyone safe.”

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