While the refrigerators and pantries of Village residents have seen little change during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are aware of the level of food insufficiency in the communities surrounding The Villages and are looking for ways to help.
The Rotary Club of The Villages – Evening provided that opportunity on Saturday and residents responded en masse at three locations.
Nearly 1,500 pounds of food and diapers was collected at the Everglades Recreation Center, where at 11 a.m. members of The Villages Mercedes Club cruised in, with each car donating food. Members of the club, led by Mike Roth, then stuck around to help with the food drive until 1:30 p.m., when a bus at the recreation center was filled up.
Rotarian Karl Keri had visited Hope Ministries food pantry last month to learn about the need in southern Sumter County. He was thrilled to see the steady stream of cars donating at the Everglades Recreation Center. Paul Quinn and Vicky Wynns, of Langley Health Services in Sumterville, brought their medical bus to transport donations to food pantries at both Hope Ministries and Lake Panasoffkee United Methodist Church.
“Both of these pantries will be helped with today’s donations,” Quinn said. “The community has been very generous. Lots of food but also high-demand items like diapers, feminine hygiene products and laundry detergent.”
Wynns said Langley Health Services has been partnering with the Rotary Club for a few years to provide dental care to low-income veterans.
“So, when they asked if Langley would help today, being aware of the growing need, it was easy to say ,yes,’” said Wynns, who serves as chief operating officer of Langley Health Services, which serves low-income residents needing medical, dental and psychiatric services.
Meanwhile, at the north end of The Villages in Spanish Springs, Winn-Dixie customers also were generous with food and cash donations. Cars and golf carts made a steady stream into Village Car Wash to drop off donations.
“All we could say was ‘Wow!’ when we saw the St. Theresa’s Food Pantry van fill up twice,” said Manager Victor Lopez.
“Our customers and the people that live here are truly generous,” added Curtis Love, of Village Car Wash. “We’re glad we could be a part of this.”
The Evening Rotary Club has collaborated three times with Village Car Wash and Hungry Howie’s Pizza and “each time it gets better,” said Sandra Ricciardi, co-chair or the food drive.
All told, about 4,000 pounds of food, diapers and other products was collected at the Spanish Springs locations for St Theresa’s and Hope Food Pantry of Weirsdale. Also, Bella Hair Studio collected feminine hygiene products.
Donor Ruth Hunter was surprised to get “thank you” coupons from the car wash, Bella’s Hair Studio and Hungry Howie’s Pizza.
“I’m in line to get my car wash now,” she said.
One vehicle pulled in and the driver handed the Rotarians a $100 bill while saying, “I got my stimulus check and thought this would be a great way to use some of it.” That person then drove away amid shouts of “thank you” from the Rotarians working at the food drive, where close to $800 in cash was collected.
So many area residents made donations throughout the day. Rotarians Cindy and Marvin Ivy pulled into Village Car Wash to drop off a truckload of canned items and cash contributions from their neighbors on Van Buren Way in the Village of Poinciana. President-elect Julie Schmied and other Rotarians also delivered donations from their neighbors.
“This is a forward-thinking club. They have been creative and helpful to our organization in a variety of ways,” said Jack Nettis, director of St. Theresa’s Social Services, which serves Summerfield and Marion County residents in need.
“Since last March, we have seen the rising need for food assistance,” said Rotary Club President Gay Ratcliff Seamens. “We are greatly encouraged by the community recognizing this need and being so generous today. Our members have committed to quarterly food drives and financial support to several local food pantries.”
Food Donations are continuing to be accepted this month at Village Car Wash and the following recreation centers: Everglades, Savannah Center, La Hacienda, Mulberry Grove, Paradise and El Santiago. The next food drive is planned for March. For more information, send an email to [email protected] or visit www.rotaryvillagesevening.com.