Community Food Drive Gets Bigger Every Year

Written by: Mary Chartier

This article first appeared on June 3, 2013 in the Villages Daily Sun


I have said this before but it bears repeating: “We live in a wonderful, caring and very generous community”.

I received a call from resident Bob Carter alerting me to an upcoming food drive in Spruce Creek to benefit the Community of Gratitude food bank in Ocklawaha.

Bob explained that the Summerfield Post Office would be leaving plastic food bags at resident mailboxes and that later in the week volunteers would pick up the bags and take them to the Lake Vista Pavilion to be sorted, repackaged and then delivered to the food bank.

On the day of the drive, I decided to take a run up to the pavilion to see this wonderful event unfold and learn how it got started.

When I arrived at the pavilion, I witnessed a virtual beehive of activity.

People were arriving in cars and trucks, dropping off bag after bag of goods while volunteers were buzzing around the pavilion doing various tasks.

Some were looking through the donations looking for “use by dates” on cans and boxes, others were repackaging the food by category into empty banana boxes, and still others were moving the filled boxes to a POD that had been rented to store and transport the donations.

Amid this fast-moving activity I was able to share a few moments with Gene Ryan and Bob and learned how this wonderful effort got started and how it has grown in the last few years.

“This started out with six people three years ago in a garage,” Gene said.

I learned that the three couples were Gene and Carol Ryan, Chad and Linda Norcross and Frank and Rosina Burke.

“The first year we did it in a garage, and we got so much food we did not have the space to sort the food,” Gene said.

Since then, the effort has moved to the pavilion and this year there were 68 volunteers doing various tasks.

As he watched the volunteers he mused, “They don’t realize what they are doing here”.  “These people don’t realize they are saving hours and hours of work at the food bank,” Gene said.

“We just take it out of the box and put it on the shelf,” he continued.

“How many boxes do you think you will fill this year,” I asked.

“Last year we had 167 boxes.  I have 197 boxes this year and we are going to run out,” Gene replied.

Gene had kind words to say about the cooperation they received Save-A-Lot in Belleview, saying the company was, “Happy to help out” and saved many banana boxes for their use.

Bob explained how the post office got involved in this wonderful charitable effort and some of the logistics to make it successful.

“Several years ago I met with the postmaster at the Summerfield Post Office,” Bob said.  “She said if we collect it all, we could have it all,” he continued.

Bob then showed me a map and explained that he divided the community into 8 sections and put two people in a car/truck to pick up the food.

“The drivers will check their sections two or three times, because people put their bags out at different times,” Bob said.

Bob explained that the food bank uses the food as they need it and would last about three months.

“How is the food bank doing?” I asked.

In the last several years the support for the food bank from United Way and other agencies had decreased, making it necessary to search out other sources of support.

What I learned was that the commitment to the food bank extends outside the gates of our community.

“Thanks to this community, we have picked up a lot.  We also collect food at the Tuesday Night dinners,” Bob explained.

“At the Tuesday Night dinners held at the community center, the Kitchen Club asks everyone who attends to just bring one item of food each and that food is then donated to the food bank,” Bob continued.

Bob also said that two or three churches in the surrounding area also support the food bank.

“Norman Lee’s church has done an unbelievable job supporting the Ocklawaha food bank.  The first Sunday of every month they bring a whole trailer over,” Bob continued.

With great warmth in his voice Bob said, “The American people are very good”.

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