Ave Maria Sun

The giving spirit: Volunteering opportunities in Ave Maria




Volunteers at the Fall Harvest Festival food drive. Back row, left to right: Vanessa Gaitan, Virginia Melendez. Front: Tom Fournier, Walter Holmes, Marvin Gaitan COURTESY PHOTOS

Volunteers at the Fall Harvest Festival food drive. Back row, left to right: Vanessa Gaitan, Virginia Melendez. Front: Tom Fournier, Walter Holmes, Marvin Gaitan COURTESY PHOTOS

Ave Maria resident Marjorie Beane was manning a food drive at the Fall Harvest Festival, in North Park, when she saw two of the most inspiring sights of her life: children offering bags of canned goods for the families of Immokalee migrant workers and a senior citizen on a tricycle, her front basket full of donated comestibles. “We were overwhelmed with food,” she recalls. “It was the most incredible experience. Hour after hour, seeing these families matching the needs of other families at a very real level.”

Generosity and kindness abound in this town, especially during the holidays, according to Lifestyle Director Carol DiFlorio of the Ave Maria Master Association (AMMA). She founded and spearheads Ave Cares, a hub for philanthropic organizers and volunteers to exchange information, pool resources, collect donations and communicate to the community at large. “Volunteering really helps people,” she says. “It gives them a sense of purpose, especially in some of the communities where we have residents that are retired, looking for things to do and wanting to help others.”

 

 

“When you’re in a community that’s so focused on helping each other, not only does it feel good but you can see it helping your neighbors. It’s not like sending a check someplace and hoping that it does good,” says Kristina Ribali, a financial advisor at Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial, which recently completed a successful food drive to benefit the PACE Center for Girls.

The need is great in Immokalee, where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 42.4 percent of residents—mostly migrant workers and their families—live in poverty, and 51.1 percent of people under 65 go without health insurance. “This is not poverty that is coming because people don’t want to work. We’re serving families that are working, and they still can’t make ends meet,” says Beane, who has volunteered to collect diapers, masks and children’s books this year.

Flag recipient Robert Hatten.

Flag recipient Robert Hatten.

As the holidays rolled in and after a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, the call to kindness flourished in December. The AMMA social committee collected handmade and hand-signed Christmas cards for elders in nursing homes across Collier County, spreading Yuletide cheer to lonely seniors that did not have family or friends visiting them this year. The Ave Maria Veterans Association (AMVA) collected unwrapped toy donations, which were delivered to Immokalee children in partnership with Guadalupe Social Services, a charitable organization based in Immokalee. Also benefitting Immokalee migrant families, the Del Webb Naples Veterans Club collected diapers and related items such as baby wipes, baby powder and Vaseline, while the AMMA accepted donations of canned foods and dry goods.

Another popular effort involves volunteers of the AMVA, which is raising money to donate and install American flags at the homes of veterans and first-responders living right here in Ave Maria. “This is a generous community,” says John Bestul, president of the AMVA. “I think there are a lot of patriotic people here, a lot of people that it strikes the right chord. We do have a fair amount, probably a higher number of veterans than you might find in a lot of other communities — from World War II, Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam — and this is a way to thank them for their service.” Donations for flags can be made at: gf.me/u/y6y5pu. Since June 2020, when they started this campaign, the AMVA has already installed 180 flags, 60 of which were donated, and there is a waiting list for other recipients. A wall-mounted flag costs $50 and a ground-mounted, 20-foot, lit flagpole with the flag is $160. For more information, visit www.AveMariaVets.org.

The Ave Maria Veterans Association’s toy drive collection.

The Ave Maria Veterans Association’s toy drive collection.

Veterans prepare the ground for a flag pole installation.

Veterans prepare the ground for a flag pole installation.

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