More Than 3,000 Children Given School Supplies And Groceries At Summerpalooza
by James Coulter
Many low-income residents in Lakeland now have book bags filled with school supplies for their children and refrigerators filled with fresh food for their families after attending Summerpalooza on Saturday.
Hundreds of children and their families lined up in the Jenkins Arena at the RP Funding Center for a chance to fill up grocery carts filled with fresh produce and other groceries donated by local organizations and businesses such as Publix.
Young attendees that day could also prepare themselves for their first day of school with free haircuts, hair designs, nail polishing, and even massages provided by volunteers. They and their families also received a free meal including a hot dog and drink.
More than 3,000 local residents pre-registered for the annual back to school event hosted by New Beginnings High School in Winter Haven, with more than 3,500 attendees turning out that day, explained CEO Ashlee Wright. Such a huge turnout was a major increase of last year’s event, which saw more than 1,000 families attendee.
With so many people attending this year, it was fortunate that the event was being hosted within the RP Funding Center, a much larger venue than last year’s location at Simpson Park Community Center.
For Wright, there’s nothing she loves more than seeing local families, especially with young children, walk away with food and supplies that they otherwise would have done without. Being able to make a big difference in her community like that is always worth it, she said.
“It is great to service the community and make sure we are showing love,” she said. “I love seeing the little babies when they get these groceries and the backpacks. There is nothing like it in the world…We look forward to next year and more community support to make it bigger and better.”
More than a dozen local organizations participated with booths set up within the arena, allowing attendees to peruse their many services. Participating that day were such organizations as the PACE Center for Girls, the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK), and even the Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum.
Carol Cali, Director of Marketing for Sun N’ Fun, and her colleauges attended the event for the first time that year to offer children an opportunity to hop inside the cockpit of one of their planes and talk with local pilots and mechanics. As her organization is dedicated to youth education, she felt that the event was an ideal opportunity to provide outreach for their museum and youth programs.
“We think it is absolutley fantastic, we love to have it be the start of many opportunities to work together with the community at large,” she said. “I think when talking with the different parents, they seem to be very happy…for us getting the word out about the opportunities we have in the community.”
Jesikynn Pfeiffer, Outreach Coordinator for PACE Center, attended that day with her organization to offer encouragement to young girls with their mirror, which included inspiring words etched in the corner.
As her organization helps at-risk young women pursue an education within a safe learning environment, they had a great opportunity to reach out to many prospective students, with at least ten people expressing interest, she said.
“We have been coming to this event since it started, and it is a great way to reach the community,” she said. “We already received ten referrals. So we might be able to change the lives of then more girls in the county.”