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The Villages
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Villages Scrappy Quilters saw the need, sewed the answers

Less than 12 miles from The Villages begins the 673-square-mile Ocala National Forest: a natural paradise for nature and sports enthusiasts with 600 lakes, rivers and natural springs, campgrounds, and 100 miles of backpacking trails. The United States Forest Service-managed 430,000 acres are home to wildlife from beavers, raccoons to deer and bears.

The Forest also is home to more than 45,000 people — most of who live well below federal poverty guidelines. Their meager existence, especially for those families with some 6,500 children, is especially unforgiving during the Christmas season.

“We wanted to make the holidays just a bit brighter for these kids who have so little,” explained Villager Sue Lehota, who leads the Scrappy Quilters — a dozen sewing enthusiasts from The Villages and from Trinity Lutheran Church in Summerfield.  “Our original goal was to make 80 stockings.  That quickly rose to 92 but we eventually made 229.”

Lehota then contacted Pastor David Houck, the CEO of Help Agency, and its SoZo Kids, the organization providing year-round human services and support to the children of the Forest.  But, to make a meaningful dent for the many kids — he asked for a 1,000 Christmas stockings for a thousand kids.

“The answer was to seek the assistance from members of the Sewing Room – a part of The Villages’ Operation Shoebox,” Lehota continued.  “They more than met our request for the 781 balance.  This was in addition to the 10,000-plus gift stockings they annually send to members of the military serving overseas.”

The next goal was to fill the stockings with gifts such as toys, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities.  Members of the Scrappy Quilters and the Church once again turned to the community.

“The response was overwhelming,” said Lehota. “Initially, I asked my neighbors of the Village of Bonita’s Centerville-Eurekan Social Club. They immediately began dropping off lots of gifts. We also received considerable support from other sewing groups: the Giving Doll and the Bear Ladies, as well as organizations including Wal-Mart, in Summerfield, and Target, in Lady Lake, Both gave gift gifts while two McDonald’s Restaurant managers donated ‘happy meal’ toys.  A manager at Goodwill, because policy prohibits his donation of store merchandise, wrote a personal check to cover our selected items.

The Scrappy Quilters made their delivery last week at the church.

The Christmas stockings along with two vans filled to overflowing, were presented to Pastor Houck on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the church.

“We will distribute the stockings to parents who will hang the stockings at their kids’ beds Christmas Eve. Imagine how excited the kids will feel waking up to see these stockings. Other gifts will be handed out at our upcoming Christmas parade,” said Houck.  “This outpouring of generosity by residents of The Villages and members of Trinity Lutheran Church will make this the best Christmas in the 25 years.  How cool!” 

Additional gifts would be greatly appreciated.  Donations can be made by contacting the North Lake Presbyterian Church; or SoZoKids at sozokids.org or mailing to 19154 NE 134 St. Silver Springs, FL 34488.

“I am amazed at the level of commitment and thoughtfulness of so many people. God has paved the way to make this happen,” said Lehota. “I believe in miracles.” 

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