Year of the Woman!
Our Villages Democratic Club is a fast-growing club of approximately 2200 members, mostly registered Democrats, but also left-leaning Independents with similar values! We are a social club with a strong base of activist Democrats.
We have our regular Monthly Meetings on the second Saturday of the month at 9:30 AM in the Colony Cottage ballroom. (Usually about 250 to 300 attendees… or more for special speakers - so get there early! Doors open at 9:15.) We have widely acclaimed speakers and a program dedicated to current issues.
Our Monthly Breakfasts are also a good way to get to know Democrats! We meet at World of Beer, Spanish Springs, on the fourth Tuesday at 9 AM. No agenda… but a few announcements, great food, and conversation. $10.00 includes breakfast, beverage, tip, and talk!
Another social activity is our Meet, Greet, and Eat monthly dining group. Join small groups (generally 6 people) for dinner once a month. For more information and an opportunity to join, Click Here.
What to Expect from this Site
This is the place for our club members, other Democrats, liberal thinking independents, and others to get information about our club, our activities, and the issues of political interest to everyone. Get Involved and Resources tabs are calls to action and lists of helpful links.
The Calendar tab - all of the events of interest to club members.
The Events tab - detail information about upcoming club events. Separated into recurring scheduled events and special (usually one time) activities.
The Issues and News tabs - are places for the place for articles and comments of interest to Democrats. All of the sections are designed to encourage input from you, the reader. If you have seen an interesting article or have a comment of your own on a subject, please share it with the rest of the club.
For Sumter County Democrats
It’s more than politics
On the second Saturday of the month many members of the Villages Democrats are carrying bags of groceries as they walk into Colony Recreation center for their regular meeting.
In the Tea Room, which members enter before being funneled into the main meeting room, tables have been set up by various candidates, groups that function inside the club, the membership committee – and one for a food collection. This is where the bags of groceries pile up, and checks and cash are tossed into a bowl. Norm Davis, who heads the food bank collection for the club, pushes a cart load of food out to his van when the table gets too full, while Larry Cohen stays at the table, greeting people and accepting their donations.
Davis, who moved to the Villages in 2007, started collecting food when he recognized the need, and committed to doing what he could to keep people from going hungry. Each month he hauls the collected food to either Our Mother of Mercy Food Pantry in Wildwood, operated by St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church, the Wildwood Food Pantry or the Christian Food Pantry in Lady Lake. Checks made out to those organizations are delivered along with the collected food. Cash, plus money raised by the club during the year is split into thirds and delivered once a year so each Pantry gets an equal amount
At Our Mother of Mercy Food Pantry, located on North Main Street, Thom and Betty Anne Horning are the coordinators, overseeing the organization of the food and the volunteers who put together the grocery packages that will be handed out to households. Recipients can be served twice a month. Volunteers organize the packages ahead of time to facilitate pickup. All the packages are identical, but recipients may also choose individual items such as hygiene products and meat.
The 2018 end of year report shows 4,227 households served, which adds up to 11,284 persons getting food. By weight that is 327,702 pounds of groceries distributed, 52,067 pounds coming from the USDA. In the summer school is out so children aren’t getting a meal therel. Many of the Villagers go North in the summer, and collections dip. This is when the pantry buys food and in 2018 spent $85,525 in donated money on groceries and hygiene products.
2018 saw a 10% increase in persons served and 13% increase in distribution of food. The expenditure of money went up 41%. But the number of volunteers also went up, with a just under 15% increase. Two hundred and six people help make it happen, with two dozen needed before each of the four distribution days.
Thom says that on distribution days people are often waiting in the parking lot early in the morning before the pantry opens. They are there for a variety of reasons, some because they are coming off working a night shift and some because they are picking up before they go to work. Many of the recipients have jobs, but don’t make enough money to cover all their needs.
Food and money donations come from many sources, including parishioners of the church, Feeding Tampa Bay, groups like the Democrats, United Methodist Church food pantry, grocery stores and businesses.
Don Huggins at the Wildwood Food Pantry told us it started in May of 2005 and will mark 15 years next year.
According to Huggins there was another food pantry in Wildwood at the time, but it just couldn’t support the operation, so the pastor appealed to the minister at New Covenant Methodist Church in the Villages, offering to provide the facility if they would provide the manpower and leadership.
Since that coming together, it is estimated over three million pounds of food have been distributed to the “food challenged” in the North Sumter County area. That group includes the “working poor,” those on a single social security check, some on disability and some on food stamps, a broad cross section of economic challenges.
Donations from groups like the Democrats are a big component of the operation, but they also spend a lot of money buying food as they are consistent in what they give away. Smaller food pantries give away what they have, but when the Wildwood Pantry runs short of a particular commodity, they purchase what they need. Cash donations are used for that purpose, as well as operations.
Food distributions happen twice a month, feeding 160-170 families. On a typical distribution day an estimated five tons of food is given away. Some of that comes from the government. On the day we visited the warehouse was filled with 17,000 pounds that had just come in. Huggins says they don’t count on it, but it is a good bonus to supplement what they are doing. Other food comes from local supermarkets, where volunteers pick up three times a week, a total of about 2,000 pounds each day. This food is perishable, bakery products and bread, as well as produce and meat. It is shared, not only with the pantry regulars, but with other area food pantries.
The soup kitchen in Wildwood is a separate operation, with a “good neighbor” relationship with the food bank. When they get food not appropriate for their needs they give it to the food bank and Huggins shares with them products they can use.
The two team up before Easter on the “Seeds of Hope” food drive, splitting the food and money that comes in during that month and a half period.
Huggins has 125 volunteers he can call on for the work that needs to be accomplished every month.
In Lady Lake the parking lot at the Christian Food Pantry on East Lady Lake Blvd. is busy between 10-2 Monday through Friday as recipients can come in twice a month, on whatever day is convenient for them.
Carrol Neel has been keeping things humming since 2010 and the food pantry has been open since 1998. Members of the North Lake Presbyterian Church fund operations, so all the food and monetary donations can go to clients.
Those clients come from an area that stretches up to Co. Road 42 and South to the Fruitland Park Line. Like the other food banks, all kinds of financial situations impact the people who come in for help. There are older clients on disability due to illness or other reasons and just can’t go it alone. There are widows and widowers who are now living on a single income. Many clients are families where one or more is working, probably part time and for minimum wage. Neel says the food frees up money for car payments, gasoline and other needs.
The Pantry doesn’t take government assistance, which allows them to be more flexible in dealing with people seeking help. They do ask them to fill out a short form, similar to a financial loan request. These are not verified as recipients are required to be on food stamps and that process does the verifying. The pantry checks to make sure that has been done. Their role is to be supplemental, clients are not supposed to rely on them. With that said, if someone doesn’t qualify for food stamps it doesn’t mean they won’t get help. If a working family can’t cut it, that is taken into consideration, as is every situation, including poor money managers. “We’re not here because people don’t have money or can’t manage it, “Neel says we’re here to help.”
A big component for the pantry is a relationship with “Second Harvest,” a national organization that works with grocery stores. This has resulted in a relationship with the Winn Dixies at Pinnelas Plaza and in Lake Sumter, plus Target on 441. Monday through Saturday, volunteers pick up meat, bread, produce, baked goods, dented cans, etc. at the Winn Dixies. Twice a week volunteers go to Target, where they get the same items, plus paper products and slow moving items. The stores get a tax write off and the Christian Food Pantry gets a lot of food.
The Food Pantry is a fairly compact operation, but has what it needs, including commercial refrigeration units to handle meat and items that must be kept cold. One hundred volunteers keep things moving efficiently.
Neel says they appreciate and can use every donation, but in recent years have moved from large food drives to requesting money. This is easier for organizers, who have the challenge of moving large amounts of food, and easier for the pantry as they can buy what they need, using discounts available through Second Harvest.
Norm Davis is one of the first persons Neel met here, and she is very appreciative of what he and the local Democrats have done for the food pantry.
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